Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Many in the travel industry know Duncan Bureau as a man of the skies.
But before his successful career in aviation took off, Bureau had his feet firmly planted on the ground – as a marketing analyst for Greyhound bus lines in Calgary, Alberta.
This was Bureau’s first foray into the travel business after obtaining a Bachelor of Management Degree in accounting and finance, and despite Greyhound’s background in buses, there was an aviation angle to the gig.
“Greyhound, at the time, launched an airline and I played a part in building out the forecasts and business plan,” Bureau says. “It was an incredible opportunity to learn and grow.”
Toronto-based Bureau, who was born in Roodeport, South Africa, has since worked in the travel industry for most of his life (“I did leave once, for a little while, but quickly realized that my true passion is aviation,” he says).
Over the years, he’s had opportunities to work for some of the biggest brands. “And frankly, some of the worlds most respected brands,” he adds.
In addition to Greyhound, he’s held leadership roles at Canadian Airlines, Air Miles, WestJet, Malaysia Airlines, Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Etihad and, now, newly-launched Canada Jetlines, where he is currently chief commercial officer (Bureau was the airline’s second employee).
“The common things in all of these companies are the amazing people and the passion they have, as aviators and as a company, to provide a service to consumers,” Bureau tells PAX.
As CCO of Jetlines, Bureau oversees the airline’s commercial strategy and business development through marketing, sales and partnership strategies, team projects, hiring decisions and product development.
He works closely with Eddy Doyle, Canada Jetlines’ president and CEO, CFO Percy Gyara and COO Brad Warren, to ensure that “we, as an executive team, articulate and execute on our plans,” Bureau explains.
“I love that I am part of a team and industry that creates experiences, connects people, cultures, drives economic development, and is dominated by amazing people,” he says.
Here, PAX Checks In with Bureau to discuss the first time he flew to Scotland, snakes (both real and human ones), and the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Duncan Bureau (DB): Noise cancelling headset, comfortable pants to change into and my iPhone/MacBook Pro.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport?
DB: Palm Springs is by far my favorite airport in the world. The terminal is outdoors, has a Starbucks, short TSA lineups, great views of the runway and is surrounded by two mountain ranges. It’s very easy to arrive or depart from.
PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?
DB: One of the earliest travel experiences I had was when I was 10 and my sister and I flew to Scotland as unaccompanied minors. We were so excited to fly by ourselves and I am sure that we consumed more coke (beverage) and chips than we have ever consumed in a seven-hour window. We flew on an Air Canada L1011, which is still, to this day, one of my favorite aircraft planes to travel on. I had already developed a love for aviation by that point, so this trip, for me, just confirmed that I wanted to be a part of this amazing idea of travel and flying.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
DB: I took my Dad on a trip to China, somewhere he had always wanted to go, during his battle with cancer. I bought business class tickets, ground transfers, interpreters, and drivers so that my Dad would be comfortable. We explored Beijing and Hong Kong, and it was truly a trip of a lifetime. Something that I will always remember. I think I am still paying that trip off.
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate while travelling?
DB: This one is actually kind of odd. I used to love the connecting flight from LHR to GLA and the reason was that BMI had this breakfast in a tin which was a square sausage, black pudding, and eggs. It was more novel versus being healthy, or that memorable from a quality or taste perspective, but the fact it was in a tin and you had to open it like a sardine can has always stayed with me. Now I have been fortunate to travel around the world and have amazing meals in Malaysia, India, France, Germany, China, Japan and many more countries. I do think that Malaysia has some of the best food on the planet.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
DB: I have two that I want to share. People who find it necessary to use their speaker phones on the aircraft or in the lounge (no, the rest of the world is not interested in hearing your conversation or your two-year-old’s electronic entertainment). And secondly, those who treat airline employees as their personal punching bag.
PAX: What is your funniest travel anecdote?
DB: I once got on a plane from London to Rome only to realize 90 minutes after takeoff that I was on the wrong plane. I was actually on the flight to Milan and had boarded the wrong aircraft. Upon landing I had to call my boss who was waiting for me at the airport in Rome and explain to him how someone who works in the travel industry and has taken thousands of flights could have possibly got on the wrong flight.
What happened next was even more hilarious. Jack Lawless, who was head of the region, and used to work in corporate communications, decided to send out a mock press release to everyone on our team, announcing that I had boarded the wrong flight.
PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury or travel for a year on a budget?
DB: While I am a bit of a travel snob, and I do like to stay in nice hotels, I think I would like to travel for a year with my partner and experience as many travel destinations and tourism assets as possible. I love to see the world, try new food, and learn about other cultures.
PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?
DB: My greatest achievement is working with a team to start an airline. Canada Jetlines has been around a long time as a brand but no previous team or ownership group was able to get this airline an AOC and off the ground. I feel very fortunate to have worked with a small group of aviators to launch this amazing product and team and to have been able to contribute in a small way. I am very proud and fortunate to have been a part of this.
PAX: What is your motto?
DB: “Collect more stamps in your passport than objects for your shelf."
PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
DB: Traveling with my partner and experiencing the planet’s tourism assets.
PAX: What is your biggest fear?
DB: Snakes, by far, both real and human ones. I hate when people take advantage of someone’s generosity. Fraud and theft from a “friend” or “business partner” is the lowest form.
PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?
DB: I am big fan of Supertramp. Breakfast in America is most likely my all-time favorite album
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
DB: My hidden talent is that I have been able to convince the world that I am an extrovert when in fact I am not at all. I always remind those that know me well that I get paid to be an extrovert, which is not a natural thing for me. I have to work really hard at that and do every day. So I would say that is my hidden talent, for sure.
PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life?
DB: “Carpe Diem” for me has more meaning than it did prior to the pandemic. I did not realize how much freedom and liberties I had until they were taken away. Being told to stay at home, not being able to visit families or friends, no more travel, no more coffee shops and no more face-to-face contact in business was a massive blow to us all. Missing lifetime milestones of those that are important to me and, of course, the tragic loss of life, are things that will forever resonate with me.
So, in a post-pandemic world, I have taken advantage of opportunities that are presented to me and make sure that I remind those that are important to me, both in my personal life as well as my professional life, the importance of the relationship. I have taken risks as an entrepreneur versus just collecting a pay cheque from a large corporation. Some risks have worked out and some have not. I have learned not to trust everyone in business. There are snakes in the grass who will defraud you and steal from you, so you need to have your radar on at all times.
In general, I believe that we are all here for a reason and those people that enter your life do so for a reason. Some people will disappoint you while others will be a gift that will remain with you. Choose those you associate with because it says a lot about who you are as a person, and of course, when people enter as a cancer, get rid of them as fast as possible. We have all experienced this and we have hopefully learned from it.
PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?
DB: The lack of empathy and service from companies and individuals to those who are travelling. Airlines are in the service business and we just happen to fly aircraft. I am disappointed in the in the number of times I hear about horrific service and then the provider blames COVID. I think we have outlived that “excuse” and we can no longer hide behind masks when we are letting customers down. Take ownership of service failures and apologize and treat people with respect. We, as an industry, should be embarrassed by the kinds of horror stories surrounding our industry.
PAX: What is this year’s top travel trend?
DB: I think people want to travel, they want to see family and friends, they want to experience all of the amazing tourism assets that exist in this amazing planet. Those in the corporate world are ready to engage with partners, customers, shareholders and all other stakeholders in person. Conferences and business travel will see massive growth and will exceed 2019 numbers. People do business with people they like and relationships are built on trust and engagement.
PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Canada Jetlines?
DB: Canada Jetlines is here to stay. We purposefully engaged with the travel trade before our first flight with very competitive commissions on base fare and on ancillaries. We invested in making our inventory available in Amadeus and Sabre. We will be on all GDS platforms in North America by the end of this year. We have built an intuitive and easy-to-understand product ladder.
We are not an LCC or ULCC. We are focused on premium leisure and we have invested in onboard power in every seat, extra leg room, buy-on-board branded products. We have complimentary non-alcohol drinks on board, with an option to purchase our branded drinks. We are travel agency friendly and we look forward to a long-term strategic partnership with our industry colleagues.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today! Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.