(From left) Flight Centre Independent consultants Maddie Miller, Heather Lavender, Wendy Wright and Cheryl Proctor (top) are sharing their love of travel with a growing client base. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Travel industry changing with the times

The times they are indeed a-changin’ and four Cowichan Valley women have embraced the new era of travel planning enthusiastically.

“Since the birth of the internet the bricks and mortar travel agency is, while not quite gone, becoming pretty much a thing of the past,” suggests Cheryl Proctor, a travel consultant with Flight Centre Independent (FCI). “As the population ages, the younger people don’t want to go and sit in an office and talk to an agent. They want to do everything online.”

That’s where Proctor, Maddie Miller, Heather Lavender and Wendy Wright come in. As consultants with FCI, they offer their expertise and manage to handle all the arrangements through email or phone conversations.

“There are times when I’ve done everything online, never even talk to (the client) on the phone,” says Wendy Wright.

Three of the four women are relative newcomers to the travel industry.

Proctor has been in the business for two years after retiring from a 25-year job at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre. They are independent agents working from home outside the traditional retail store model and are among approximately 300 agents across the country who have joined FCI.

FCI says it is bringing on 12 to 15 new agents every month with little turnover and expects to recruit 1,000 agents within the next four years.

“They have a great support system,” offers Lavender who acknowledges that she has always had an interest in travel but didn’t know much about the business side of the industry. Like many of the FCI agents, Lavender continues to work at another job while she learns the nuts and bolts of being a travel consultant and develops a client base.

Wright has been avid traveler all her life, having visited 22 countries.

“The company provides a comprehensive training process that we go through and they are always there to support us,” Wright says.

At 25, Miller is the youngest member of the group but she says she’s easing into the business while holding down two other jobs. She notes her clients aren’t necessarily in her age demographic.

“It’s a mix of people and I use social media a lot and get 80 per cent of my business through Facebook,” she estimates.

The four consultants says personalized service has great appeal to their clients.

“Researching trips for other people is so much fun,” says Wright. “We’ve got all the resources and we’re able to pass on the best deals.”

The women, who meet regularly to exchange ideas and talk about new opportunities for their clients, agree the personal connection they offer can be invaluable.

“If something goes wrong on a trip,” Proctor points out, “we’re there for them.”

For example, when the Boeing 737 Max planes were grounded in March, Proctor says no FCI customers were left stranded.

“People just have to pick up the phone and call us from wherever they are. We’re real live people and you’re not talking to some call centre somewhere.”

• • •

Boston Pizza in Duncan is participating in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics BC. This special promotion, Cops, Pops and Pizza is aimed at raising funds and awareness for Special Olympics BC’s life-changing programs for people with intellectual disabilities.

Law enforcement members and Special Olympics athletes will serve customers, collect donations and raise awareness for Special Olympics at Boston Pizza restaurants across the country.

Cops, Pops and Pizza will take place on Thursday, June 27.

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