There’s a new travel agency on the block in Chilliwack
There’s a new travel agency on the block in Chilliwack


At the height of the pandemic, travel agencies were shutting down across the country. Even as travel restrictions lifted, many agency owners decided to turn the lights off on the additional overhead costs associated with office spaces and opted for remote work places.

Although plans for South East Travel’s expansion were put on hold during that time, business partners Deborah Schroeder and Claire Banman never gave up on their goal of opening a new bricks and mortar location.

That dream officially became a reality on Feb. 1st as the Steinbach-Manitoba founded agency opened the doors to a second South East Travel location, this time in downtown Chilliwack, B.C. The co-owners celebrated the launch by having a grand opening weekend on April 5 and 6, which was attended by travel industry partners from the west and the agency’s original founder.

“We were joined by special guest Helen Funk, the founder of South East Travel in 1988, and my business partner Deborah Schroeder, both of whom flew out from Manitoba to join us,” notes Claire Banman, owner, senior travel consultant and destination wedding specialist at South East Travel.

Banman, who grew up in Steinbach but relocated to Chilliwack in 2016, came into the South East Travel fold in 2019 when Funk was ready to retire and sell her shares of the business. Despite the pandemic causing an initial delay in their growth plans, by 2021 the co-owners made the decision to get everything they needed in order to expand in place and by 2022, they were fully licensed in B.C. and debuted the venture with a staff of two home-based agents.

“As a family owned business with Helen passing along the torch to her niece, Deborah, and with me joining I am truly honoured,” says Banman. “Being a locally-owned company and working with our community is something we are both very proud of. We were absolutely honoured to have Helen cut the ribbon for us as without her we would not be where we are today. Deborah and I are genuinely and organically a great partnership and I am so lucky to do what I love along side of her. We are growing and thriving and I am so excited for what the future has to hold for South East Travel.”

Notably, business across both locations is booming.

“Our Steinbach office remained operating throughout the pandemic, and we were the only surviving agency in our area,” adds Schroeder. “A few of our agents willingly took a leave on the onset of the pandemic but our core staff remained working to make sure all of our clients were taken care of. In 2022 we started hiring again as we needed help to keep up with growing demand.”

In 2022, South East Travel surpassed its 2019 numbers.

“In 2023, we doubled that yet,” she says. “2024 has kicked off to a great start and we are here for it.”

As for trends, Banman says one key noticeable thing is that travel advisors are in demand.

“The biggest trend we are seeing is clients coming back to using travel consultants or contacting us for first time, which speaks to our growing sales,” she says. “Clients are looking to book longer trips, bucket list destinations and adventure tours. This spring we are seeing a big demand for cruises.”

And while many clients like to book their travels from the comforts of home, the pair say there’s a demand for bricks and mortar locations.

“We have built our business on good service, good relationships and an excellent reputation,” says Schroeder. “We appreciate the convenience of clients being able to reach us by phone, email, web, etc. but we also appreciate the value it brings our clients to come visit their travel agent in person, in a professional office setting with resources on hand and the additional trust and relationships that builds.”

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