Ready to discover the world again

On Aug. 27, Tara Sparshu, a professional travel consultant with TierOne Travel in Edmonton, Alta., embarked on her first international trip since the industry was altered by the onset of the global pandemic.

“For me it was important not only because I miss travelling to see and experience new destinations but also to learn about what it’s like to travel now, learn and experience firsthand the new travel protocols so I can help my clients through these processes, as well as show people that travel can definitely be done safely,” Sparshu tells Travel Courier.

Sparshu was one of three dozen fully vaccinated travel professionals from Canada and the US who took part in the 2021 instalment of the Air Canada Race, held in Basel, Switzerland, and says getting back out in the world will help while working on future trips for clients.

“The first thing will be that I now have experience with the COVID protocols entering other countries, entering Canada as well as the PCR testing in destination,” she says. “Learning about the travel prep, COVID protocols and just experiencing the whole process for myself will definitely help me advise clients better. The other experience that will help on future trips is just the experience of Switzerland and what it has to offer as well as the connections made with local representatives.”

A self-described hands-on learner, Sparshu says the experience in Basel, followed by a post race stay in Gstaad, also outweighs what could have been taught during a virtual webinar or event.

“Though you can meet people and do your event virtually, I think that you make much deeper and more meaningful connections when meeting in person. And you could definitely feel this not only with the travel consultants but also with all of the suppliers [we met during a trade show] saying how excited they were to be back at a live event and being able to see people in person,” she says. “Prior to the trip, I would often have river cruise clients that would do their pre or post stays in Lucerne or Zurich. This trip showed me the benefits and reasons why river cruise clients should consider doing their pre or post stay in Basel.”

After participating in a pilot project between Air Canada and Switch Health, which offers a PCR-like test that’s been approved by Health Canada for emergency use that can be conducted by travellers from their hotel rooms around the world, she also looks forward to working on more convenient ways to get the required testing done that’s needed for entry back into Canada.

What's the Air Canada Race all about? Don't miss the recap video!

As someone who deals with a corporate clientele, Ian Henderson, a senior travel manager with Thornhill-based Peerless Travel, took the opportunity to travel to Switzerland to get a better understanding of what the travel experience is like right now.

“This was my first international trip since the start of the pandemic,” he says. “I felt it was very important to travel and see how much or how little the overall experience had changed. I have clients who are always asking me about safety measures put in place, and whether it is safe to travel? So who better to live the experience and assure my clients that I felt comfortable throughout the whole experience. [My] corporate clientele like to hear about the travel experience first hand… not necessarily just from reading rules and regulations online. I am familiar with what the average day and week is like for a business traveller, so I can help them relate based on my own experience.”

As many of his clients knew he was embarking on the trip, since returning from Basel and a post race stay in Lucerne and Engelberg, Henderson notes multiple clients have inquired about the experience.

“Surprisingly a large number have always wanted to go there, so hopefully hearing my experiences and desire to return, will be enough to motivate them to finally check it out,” he says.

Learning about the destination in person has also been an excellent remedy to the Zoom fatigue and virtual meetings over the last 18 months.

“Nothing will ever replace the in-person experience. This can be easily related to Zoom calls over the past year and a bit. You are essentially present, you take in some information, but are you really getting the most out of it? The answer is no,” he says. “But to be there in person, walking the streets, visiting the sites, eating the food — that is what creates memories strong enough to convey passion about a destination.”

And if there’s one piece of advice he has to share for others in the field, it’s to take the trip.

“I would just say do it. Take any opportunity presented to you as all of the training available will never convey the passion of actually doing something yourself,” he says. “If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it is not to take the ability to see this great world for granted. Take every opportunity to broaden your horizons, to meet people from different walks of life and you’ll soon realize that despite a small language barrier we are really not that different.”

The Air Canada Race also marked the first time Kate Neufeld from Flight Centre Burlington Centre has travelled internationally since returning back to Canada from New Zealand on March 20, 2020.

“I did think seriously about if I wanted to take part and I spoke with quite a few people including a close friend who is a physician and they all encouraged me to go,” she says. “I think my main takeaway is that if you are passionate about something you will figure out a way. The scenery of Switzerland was still just as stunning as I remember even though I wore a mask on the train.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Schetty Head of Markets and Sales at Gstaad Marketing GMBH, says being part of the trip and hosting a small group of participants in the destination represented a restart of networking.

“For me it was personally very important to host a part of the group, still the best way to explore a destination. Specially a wonderful destination like Gstaad, where you have to feel the ambience – come up, slow down – our slogan, the authenticity and the locals to understand the magic of the place,” he says. “From the beginning I felt a certain connection to the Canadian market. We have somehow similar ideas of tourism, activities and what we want to see and explore. That makes it easy to understand each other and find the right combination for the visit.”

Schetty says the destination prides itself on making every guest feel like “a temporary local, not only a tourist” and hopes the travel advisors went home with an understanding of what makes Gstaad a very authentic Swiss village and destination.

“It’s a premium location combined with traditions and personality. [I hope] they could feel the spirit in the last paradise in a crazy world,” he says. “Canadians stay normally a few days, they take their time to really understand the surrounding. They don’t go first to the mainstream places, they are interested in hidden gems and special experiences.”

It’s also significant to note that the Air Canada Race was the first international event Switzerland Tourism hosted since the beginning of the pandemic and all agents returned back to Canada with negative test results.

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