During the pandemic Shalene Dudley not only focussed on growing and revamping her travel agency, but also on dedicating time to leading important discussions on racism and prejudice in the travel and tourism sector through the grassroots organization Let’s Get Uncomfortable.
Shalene is an absolute force of nature. A wife, mother, entrepreneur, successful travel advisor… I could go on and on. Her passion for her clients and her love of the Caribbean blend seamlessly in her niche markets of destination weddings, honeymoons, babymoons and specialty groups. She loves ‘love’ so it’s no surprise that she’s had incredible success in selling Sandals Resorts, especially this past year… yes, even during a pandemic. But life isn’t always about roses and fairytales, so it’s her other passion – for racial justice and equality – that really put the well-deserved spotlight on her last year. She created a grassroots organization called “Let’s Get Uncomfortable” and hosted a series of virtual events for travel professionals to discuss important topics, like anti-black racism in the Canadian travel industry, that up until this point weren’t ever addressed in an open, public forum. Bravo Shalene! Keep up the great work. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Shalene has been a huge supporter of us, and of me, throughout this entire pandemic. Whether it was a phone call to catch up on how she was doing/I was doing, it always put a smile on my face to see her name pop up on my phone, and I always knew I was in for a laugh. Between homeschooling her two children, her participation with Let’s Get Uncomfortable (LGU): Confronting Anti-Black Racism in Travel & Tourism, to continuing to push her business and brand forward — she is an inspiration. We were lucky enough to host her clients for a December wedding at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana — a wedding that was originally booked for March of 2020 and rescheduled at least two times. Shalene was there every step of the way for these clients and despite all of the obstacles of 2020, this couple travelled and had an amazing destination wedding. LGU is an initiative that Shalene moderates with incredibly important information, and brought forward topics that are rarely discussed in the travel industry that impact the population of black travellers. I have had the privilege to work with her, and grow a relationship with her. I am excited to see what the next years bring, because Shalene is a true rock star.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?
I have been an agent since 2014 and launched by agency, Latitude Concierge Travels, Ltd the same year. Previous to travel, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design at Michigan State University and worked as a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Soon after, I transitioned to construction project management and earned the designation of PMP-Project Management Professional. After a fabulous destination wedding in Jamaica and 12 years in the construction/design industry, I transitioned to travel.
Why and how did you decide to become a travel advisor?
Hospitality and travel have always been a passion and when it was time to transition due to some very life-changing and traumatic events, I knew that it was where I needed to position myself to make a new foundation for my career and my expertise. During university, I always found myself working in a restaurant or a bar and once I was able to, I always managed to travel. Friends often came to me unofficially to provide feedback and assistance organizing travel groups so with a nudge from my husband, I decided to see if the dream was feasible.
What’s your favourite part of being a travel agent?
Honestly, every time I work on a file I reimagine my own travel experience and get so immersed in the clients’ upcoming plans that I get excited to travel again. I also enjoy the flexibility and ability to have new travel experiences with my family.
What’s a key thing you learned during the pandemic?
So many things: First, that we all needed time to be still. Whether that was a day or a few months, you were able to do some reflection, enjoy and realize the value of family, enjoy nature, and complete tasks that otherwise found themselves elusive. I personally learned that there was a lot of “noise” that made it difficult for everyone to actually witness and absorb the injustices around us. I am a member of Let’s Get Uncomfortable (LGU), an organization dedicated to hosting important conversations in the travel industry. We were able to re-activate and reorganize our team to get some programming together for the purpose of having discussions about racism and prejudice in the travel and tourism sector. People have been able to take the time to reflect and really understand what it takes to be anti-racist and re-discover the meaning of true allyship.
What will be your first post-pandemic trip and why?
A family trip to Cabo so my kids can run free and enjoy socializing in the sun again. Then a solo work trip to enjoy some quiet time… Did I mention that I will be alone?
Do you believe more people will use travel advisors after covid-19?
Absolutely! I am already seeing a drastic change from clients who now realize the value of our services.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for travel advisors right now?
Keep looking forward to the future and find your own ecosystem of support personally and in business. Create your “board of directors” which should not only include cheerleaders but those who hold you accountable, help you to innovate and push you past your limits.
Do you have anything to add?
This past year has been so unpredictable but there has been so much opportunity to pivot and reorganize. The motivation was sometimes hard to find and mentally we have all been exhausted. What has kept me moving has been finding opportunities to grow and reconnect. Our industry, and those that represent it have the power to affect real change. We have seen it with those who invested their personal time and efforts into changing government policies and programs. Let’s together use the same energy to continue the work required to see true representation and inclusivity not only in the countries and products we sell but the strategies and business practices we have embraced.