The Monday Minute is a weekly feature in PAX that highlights the movers, shakers, leaders and rule breakers in Canada's travel advisor community. Wanna be profiled? Wanna nominate someone? Email email@example.com!
Name: Sonya Orr
Business: TTI Travel
Where do you live? Vancouver, B.C.
How long have you been a travel advisor? Thirty-plus wonderful years
What is your specialty?
The majority of my clients used to consist of corporate travel and I’m happy to see that I have been experiencing an increase in high-end luxury leisure travel for the past 10 years. I would say I am now 50/50.
What is your current state of mind?
I have always believed that the world is yours to explore. The travel experiences I have had over the years have made me eager for more and to share with others.
I am excited that there are so many opportunities for everyone’s travel dreams, whether it’s a five-star river cruise, unique hotel stays, adventurous land experiences, it’s all there for me to create unforgettable memories for my clients. I am thrilled, as we in the travel industry have picked up the pieces and are ‘back up and running.’
What inspired you to become a travel advisor?
I moved to South Africa at the young age of four, visiting Copenhagen and Rome along the way. Then, moving back to Canada at age 15, my family stopped in Rio de Janeiro. It was fascinating. My parents have always been adventurous and love to travel. This left an impression on me and I have never felt more suited to anything than being the best travel advisor I can be. Travel is in my blood. It’s important to love what you do and do it with passion, and I can honestly say I do.
What’s the first trip you ever took?
Moving to South Africa was my first trip. As a late teen, we drove to California and Disneyland. But some of my first trips, once I became a travel advisor, was Club Med Playa Blanca (for those who remember, it was outside Puerto Vallarta), Contiki to Europe and a fabulous trip to Japan. That was only the beginning.
What travel trends are you seeing these days?
I’m seeing frequent leisure bookings that lean towards an experience-style journey, rather than a beach-style type of vacation. While I am booking those as well – all-inclusive vacations have always been popular – there is a definite desire towards culture, food, wine, and unique experiences. Eastern Europe, Portugal and South America have been the recent queries. Safaris for sure. I’ve been planning quite a few gorilla treks in both Uganda and Rwanda. Italy, France, Spain are still very popular. Biking trips are also on the rise and so are river cruises. People are thinking outside the usual box, and it’s great.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you do business?
I’m sure it has been stated previously, but I believe travel insurance is so, so important. And professional fees! My corporate fees have been in place for more than 25 years, but I never really charged planning fees for leisure clients. I do now! We bring value and knowledge to our clients, and the way the world is with all its unpredictable situations, creating a lot of additional work, we must remember our worth and charge accordingly.
Of all the bookings you’ve made, which itinerary are you most proud of?
I think bringing people together is one of the greatest itineraries to complete. This could be families or individuals that need to travel from various locations around the world to be together. Whether it is for a wedding or birthday or a yearly get together.
I was planning a surprise birthday trip for my client’s wife, flying guests to Cabo from all over Canada and the U.S., and had to make sure they didn’t arrive at the same time as the birthday girl and blow the surprise. Just to be sure the resort had everything perfect, I flew down the weekend prior. And I’m glad I did. Sometimes being able to communicate in person is magic. It was the perfect surprise.
What’s the most memorable trip you ever took?
There have been many. This past April, visiting The Amazon and Peru was not only a visual feast, but the culinary experience and the people were also so amazing. Finally seeing Machu Pichu was wonderful. Our Uniworld River Cruise in India with friends definitely was out of this world! But tops would have to be my wedding in Italy six years ago. We eloped and had 12 friends join. For the most part, keeping it a surprise from all of them, we planned a four-day experience at the beautiful Relais Chateaux Villa Franceschi, and our wedding was in the famous shoe museum Villa Foscarini Rossi. Their villa has 16th century frescos on the ceiling. The tenor we hired, known as The Voice of Venice, gave us all goosebumps when he sang in this special room! A boat cruise along the River Brenta, back to Villa Franceschi for dinner, followed. It was a bit of a challenge planning a wedding in Italy, but it was my dream and I was determined to make it special. It all worked out better than we could have imagined.
Where do you see your business one year from now?
I’m passionate about all things travel, and I will continue to work hard to provide my clients with excellent concierge-style service, which will continue to bring me pleasure and success. Even though I have been self-employed as an independent contractor for more than 25 years, there’s always room to grow and improve. Attending luxury travel conferences is a great way to network and make meaningful connections to help grow your business.
What’s one thing you would change about the travel industry?
It would be nice if all airlines paid commission, and for the ones that do it, it would be nice if they paid higher commissions.
What’s the secret to being successful in this business?
Create a niche or specialization and build and develop relationships. I feel lucky that I have fabulous clients that have also become great friends.
What is your motto?
Life is short and the world is your oyster! Basically, never pass up on an opportunity to travel.
What is your number one piece of advice to other travel advisors?
Finding a professional travel host agency is very important in providing the support you need to be successful.
Where are you travelling next?
This year is a busy year for travel. I’ve just returned from Miami where I attended my first LE/Miami conference, which I highly recommend. In July, I have a short trip to Scottsdale to join Travel Pivots, a fun forum to discuss and share ideas on what’s been going on in our own businesses and how we have pivoted successfully since COVID. In August, we have our Virtuoso members conference in Las Vegas, and I will also be attending ILTM Cannes in December. It’s a busy year for travel conferences, but there’s always something to learn and I love it!