with Mary Ann Longley, Red Tag Travel, Thunder Bay, Ont.

She’s seen a lot of changes in her 30+ years in the biz, but this agent still loves her job – and her clients love her.

Where were you born? In Thunder Bay. I’ve lived here all my life except stints in northern Spain and 3 ½ years in the Cayman Islands where I worked some of the time managing a travel agency.

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What was your first job? Working at The Sundae Shop here in Thunder Bay, when I was 15. And no, I didn’t eat too much of the product!

How long have you been in the business? I’ve lost track – but I figure 33 years in all. 

Tell me about your first airplane ride. My father was Italian so even when I was very young we travelled to Italy. I don’t remember a lot, but from day one I loved to fly.  

How has the business changed since you got into it? So many changes! (laughs) Consumers’ expectations of what they will get for their money has changed hugely. Everyone wants a deal, and I understand that — but when you break down what you get, especially at an all-inclusive, it’s amazing value for money. Also, I think people underrate and underestimate travel agents.

Do you have a specialty? I sell everything, but I have an older clientele who like Europe and exotic itineraries like Nile cruises and expedition cruising.   

If you could have any job in the business what would it be? A destination rep – I think that would be fun. To live in another destination, helping people, would be fun.   

What drives you crazy? All the changes. Flight cancellations and delays. I hate having my clients inconvenienced. This winter hasn’t been bad here in Thunder Bay, but some years the bad weather can make it horrific.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into a hotel room? I do a little mini-inspection. 

Do you have a magic sentence to close the sale? The biggest reason people come back to me is because they trust me. I won’t over-sell or pressure sell. It’s all about the trust.

Do you have any time management strategies? I’m extremely organized, using an old-fashioned diary to document appointments, payments due and so on.

If you had to spend six months in a destination, which one would you pick? My heart belongs in Italy. So yes, it would have to be Italy.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I’d be teaching, probably primary school.  I would have absolutely loved that!

If you or someone you know is a front line travel agent in Canada and would like to be featured in Biting Questions, please contact us.

Travellers waiting at the Canada - U.S. Border. Photo courtesy of the Houlton Pioneer Times.
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