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.
When Royal Irish Tours (RIT Vacations) promoted John Fallon to sales manager for Canada, the tour operator not only grew its sales team in the country from one to two, but it also doubled its Johns.
Fallon, who started in RIT’s reservations department, was paired with Jonathan Sargeant, who was also promoted – to director of sales.
Since those appointments were announced last October, the two Johns (who are both from Ireland) have been tasked with connecting with travel advisors and inviting Canadians to discover their homeland, via expert-led coach, self-drive and chauffeured tours, and beyond to places like Scotland, England and Wales.
This is what Fallon loves about his line of work.
“I count myself very lucky to be in a profession where I can promote my home, the Irish people and the island of Ireland,” Fallon tells PAX. “With an enormous amount of bias, I have to say that Ireland is one of the best places in the world – the people, the history, the castles, and the music all combined make it a unique island of characters and craic!”
RIT’s FAM trips, too, are also great experiences that “showcase my homeland to the travel agents of Canada,” adds Fallon, who is originally from a small village outside of Galway City, which is on the main route to the world-famous Cliffs of Moher.
Fallon emigrated to Canada in 2017 and is currently living in Kitchener, ON. As a sales manager, he represents RIT at conferences, trade shows and consumer events across Canada.
Recently, Fallon accompanied 20 trade suppliers from Ireland for Tourism Ireland’s road show, which made stops in London, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.
He’s the main contact for travel advisors in Ontario for trainings, webinars and general inquiries for RIT. He also recently flew to Manitoba to lead some in-person trainings.
“The weeks vary during this time of year, but I love it,” Fallon says. “It is great to be back meeting agents in person again.”
Growing up along the Wild Atlantic Way in County Galway, the Irishman was always in and out of hospitality, working in cafés, bars and restaurants.
“With such a heavy reliance on tourism in the West of Ireland, it is difficult not to be involved in the industry to some capacity,” he says.
Fallon’s “big introduction” to the travel industry, however, was during the end of his university years when he worked as a passenger service agent at Shannon Airport in County Clare.
“It was a great experience that got me hooked on wanting to work in the travel industry,” he says.
Hospitality and travel has played an important role in his life.
“With 1.5 million visitors annually passing through the small village of Ballinderreen on route to the Cliffs of Moher, the travel industry has always lent itself as the main employer in my hometown,” Fallon says.
Working at RIT, Fallon enjoys meeting people and exploring new places. “To me, travel and tourism is a people industry,” he says, “and it’s a great way to learn about new cultures, customs and ways of life.”
And, by the sounds of it, he works with a fun group.
“We have a great team at RIT with a nice mix of Irish, Scottish and Canadians, so there’s always a laugh to be had – even during the busy times!” he says.
Here, PAX Checks In with Fallon to discuss his biggest fear, why he carries a notepad while travelling, and the top travel trend that’s driving tour sales.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
John Fallon (JF): Headphones – whether it’s a podcast or an album, they are a must for me; gym gear – it’s always nice to go for a run around the city you’re staying/working in (excluding Canada from January to April. Brr!); and a notepad – there’s always a great story to be had when travelling, so I try to write, whenever I can, about conversations I have and people I meet along the way.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport?
JF: Having worked there in the past, it has to be Shannon Airport in County Clare, Ireland – the gateway to the West of Ireland. The easiest airport I have travelled through with some of the best staff you will find. To me, a great airport is the location, the staff and the amenities. Shannon has it all. Fingers crossed we can see a return to the Toronto-Shannon service!
PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?
JF: We had some great trips around Ireland when I was younger. Every year, my parents, two brothers and I would squeeze into the Nissan Sunny and venture off to Killarney, West Cork, Donegal or another seaside Irish town. My first time on a plane was with a school football trip to the U.K., which was great. Thirty students, a couple of teachers and a weekend of mischief exploring Manchester and Liverpool. Many of us had never been out of Ireland before.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
JF: When on vacation/back home, I always aim for one “fancy” restaurant with my partner. My latest favourite has been at An Port Mor in Westport, Mayo. The menu changes daily, depending on the local produce/season. The chef, Frankie Mallon, has created a great food hotspot along the Wild Atlantic Way.
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate while travelling?
JF: One of the best food experiences I have ever had was in the South African Township of Gugulethu. Mzolis Place (sadly this restaurant has since closed) was a butcher shop at the front and a Braai House in the back, which offered the best food I had while travelling through South Africa. This place was not for vegetarians. It was meat, meat and more meat, cooked fresh to order. Having met some locals a few days prior, they offered to help with setting up a trip to Mzolis, which resulted in a day-long party in the Braai House with the locals, an abundance of braai meat, alcohol and music. What’s not to love?!
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
JF: Bad manners. Be kind to the people who are working on rebooking your flight, making your coffee, or scanning your boarding pass.
PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury, or travel for a year on a budget?
JF: Year on a budget! To me, the experiences you could have through a year of travelling on a budget would outweigh any of the month-long luxury benefits. For me, travel is all about the people, the culture, the food, the stories – more time travelling, even on a budget, would allow for more of the above.
PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?
JF: I am very fortunate to have received my permanent residency in Canada. Moving over six years ago on an initial two-year working holiday visa, I had no idea it would turn into this adventure. Canada is a great country. The people are welcoming, there is great diversity being celebrated and it’s a place where I am happy to be settled. I am lucky – by promoting RIT to Canadians for work every day, I have the luxury to feel very connected with home. Next stop, citizenship!
PAX: What is your motto?
JF: Trust the process.
PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JF: A cool day, an open fire, and a round of Guinness with friends and family in the one room (only a glass with a dash of black currant for my Mam though).
PAX: What is your biggest fear?
JF: Guinness being poured in a Heineken glass.
PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?
JF: Mumford & Sons have made their way back to the top of the pile again. I first saw them in Galway when I was 18 and have seen them perform live five times since.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
JF: I have been known to do some impressions and accents – maybe after a few pints have been consumed!
PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life?
JF: It has certainly changed my perspective on travelling and the opportunities I once thought were endless. Living away from your home can be tough, but I have a great partner who embraces the chance to go back to Ireland with me and see family as often as possible, which is priceless. Life if short – so when I have the chance to see family and friends, I am jumping at it.
Regarding our industry, I am a firm believer that communication is key to building/continuing relationships with our agents, clients and suppliers. I have noticed that there is a lot to be gained from a quick visit, coffee or call to chat through any questions.
PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?
JF: Labor shortages. The majority of trades people I’ve met with this year are all saying the same thing – we cannot get enough people. Unfortunately, the travel and hospitality sector suffered terribly during the pandemic. We have lost a lot of great people to other industries and coupled with the returning stress surrounding travel, it is proving difficult to attract new people to the industry.
PAX: What is this year’s top travel trend?
JF: I am noticing a significant increase in family/friend trips. People are wanting to travel but they are wanting to do so with their own people – small group packages is probably where we are seeing the biggest rise in demand on pre-pandemic bookings. For example, our FIT Chauffeur and small Sightseeing Tours are selling better than ever, along with custom ad hoc family and friends private tours.
PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Royal Irish Tours?
JF: We are a Canadian company catering to Canadian travellers. All of our First Class Coach tours are tailored towards the Canadian market. Our fabulous tour guides are great at storytelling and history lessons. They will focus many of their history talks on the Irish-Canadian connection when talking about the Irish diaspora. With 4.5 million Canadians claiming Irish heritage, we feel they deserve their own story.
And book early to avoid disappointment. Ireland and the U.K. are selling fast this year. We are seeing many dates for the early summer filling up already with even some coach tour dates in September already sold out.
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