Jet lag Voyages
If you’re considering travelling in the near future, there’s one thing I urge you not to do. Do not – I repeat, do not! – jump on the bandwagon of folks who think making a few Google searches is equally as effective as hiring a travel agent. Because it’s not. Let me explain why.
As we head into a post-pandemic world, the idea of international travel is beginning to drift back into our minds. Remember destination vacations? Those trips where we actually left our own country? And don’t forget about cruises! Gosh, it sure would be nice to find some sandy beaches and turquoise-coloured water.
Feel like travelling now? I certainly do. Few thrills beat that of packing a suitcase, boarding a plane, and flying to a faraway land with exotic cultures, cuisines, and climates.
But getting back to our initial subject, why, in 2022, the age of easily-accessible information, are travel agents still relevant? To best answer this question, I think you ought to listen to the career story of Ola Ulewicz, a travel agent who never thought she’d become one.
Ola grew up in Barrie and is a Georgian College alumnus. Although she studied Travel and Tourism during her time at Georgian, it wasn’t because she had her sights set on the travel agency industry. To be frank, and like most other twenty year-olds, Ola didn’t have a clue what she wanted to do. She was only sure of one thing: She wanted to work on cruise ships for a few years.
So, after her college graduation, that’s what she did. Ola was hired by a cruise ship consolidating company, which essentially is an organization that hires on behalf of the actual cruise ships. She boarded her ship and set sail. Then, the adventures began.
“My first contract was a little bit wild,” she said. “The ship was on a transatlantic route, so we were going from the UK to New York, back and forth, over and over again.”
That’ll give you your sea legs! After that contract, things only got more interesting.
“For the next three months, we were in the Caribbean, visiting literally every island you can think of. And then after that, I worked three months on a world cruise, which was a circumnavigation of the globe.”
Hold up, let’s take a minute to get this straight. Within one year of working on a cruise ship, Ola journeyed across the Atlantic multiple times, explored the Caribbean, and then topped it all off by going all the way around the globe. Remember, we’re talking about Ola Ulewicz here, a Barrie-native like you and I. Not a Spanish explorer from the 16th century.
In between her contracts, Ola took one month breaks before setting sail again. After her trip around the globe, she took a couple more adventurous contracts, with one set in the Mediterranean and another in Scandinavia. During these months, she explored coastal cities in Italy, Norway, and other nations known for their scenic beauty.
Now, if you’re feeling jealous that Ola’s job was carrying out all our own personal travelling dreams, just wait until you hear the next part. Ola didn’t only travel for work. She did it in her free time, too.
“I’ve travelled a lot post-cruising,” she said. “I mean, when you’re cruising, there’s not one favourite place because once you go around the world and see so many different places. It’s hard to compare them because they’re so vastly different.”
That being said, Ola still has a few locations on her top-ten list, so to speak. For instance, out of all the places she’s visited in Europe, Barcelona, Spain, is one place she loves to revisit.
But despite her statement that picking a favourite place is almost impossible, Ola still has few that stand above the rest.
“One of my favorite cities in the world is Cape Town, South Africa. I love it. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I’ve been there three times, and I will go back at any given moment in my life.”
Keep that in mind when you’re planning your picture-perfect, post-Covid getaway. And if you’re curious about some of her other top-ten picks, I’ll give you a few for free. Consider yourself lucky because good luck guessing some of these on your own.
“One of my most unexpected favourite places was Oman in the Middle East,” she said. “That one was super unexpected because it was a big culture shock. But at the same time, it was a very pleasant culture shock. It’s a country so submerged in a completely different world than what we know. I mean, Oman is a very conservative Middle Eastern country, but it’s still very welcoming to Western traditions.”
Who would’ve guessed Oman to be on a travel agent’s top ten destinations? If you’re picking up the crumbs I’m dropping, you might be starting to see why travel agents still have incredible value. But still, these are just crumbs. The cake is yet to come.
Some of Ola’s other favourite destinations are places like Argentina and the Easter Islands. However, you may be asking, what’s her overall favourite? Lucky for you, she won’t keep it a secret.
She said, “My top favourite of all places I’ve ever been to is Antarctica.”
Not what you were expecting? Maybe you anticipated a destination where you could stick an umbrella in the sand and listen to the tide lapping on the sand? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but Antarctica isn’t exactly known for its balmy weather. Why is it Ola’s favourite then? One word: Adventure.
“Don’t get me wrong, the ship and accommodations were great and comfortable,” she said. “You can even get luxury options. But the one part you’ll be uncomfortable during is the crossing point.”
Let me give you some context here. When you’re crossing via boat from the Cape Horn in Chile to Antarctica, the body of water in between is called the Drake Passage. If that sounds intimidating, that’s because it is.
“[The Drake Passage] is just pure motion sickness,” said Ola. “It’s crazy. When I crossed it, I had been working on cruise ships for a long time. I had my sea legs, and I was still sick for two days.”
If you’re curious, Google it. You can find YouTube videos of boats crossing the Drake Passage that will make your stomach drop.
But once you get past that crossing, Ola explained, the nature and views of Antarctica are enough to make you think it was all worth it. Think of the glaciers and the awe-inspiring size of the massive icebergs. Keep in mind that Antarctica remains completely unsettled and unclaimed due to international treaties. If you’re the exploring type, Antarctica might be for you.
Now let’s get back to Ola. After some time, she decided to leave the cruise ship career and try something that would allow her to be a little more settled. She decided to stay in the travel industry, but this time as a travel agent. She was hired by the Australian travel group, Flight Centre, and worked there for 10 years.
Then, in November 2020, she decided it was time to be adventurous again. When Covid hit, arguably no industry was affected more than travel and tourism. Layoffs with travel companies became increasingly frequent, so Ola decided to take her severance pay and go off on her own.
That being said, there was no chance she’d leave the travel industry.
“I just love it too much,” she said.
So in January 2021, she officially founded Jet Lag Voyages, her very own travel and tourism business. As you would expect, Covid restrictions have caused a few headaches for Ola as she’s worked to get the business up and running. In spite of it, however, she still expects to have a ten person operation in the near future as travel restrictions begin to drop.
At last, it’s time to answer the question we started with: Why are travel agents still so important? To explain, Ola likes to use her time at Flight Centre as an example.
“The year before Covid was our most profitable year ever,” she said. “We were at a sales peak, and then we went to zero when the pandemic hit. But through it all, I saw the huge mess that people who never used travel agents were stuck in. It was a disaster of cancellations and things, and those people had nobody to reach out to.”
This is why Ola believes that travel agents are now more important than ever. Covid has changed the travel industry’s entire landscape. International travel is now more complicated than ever. Just think of all the restrictions and requirements that vary country-by-country. It’s a complex world out there.
“The reality is more and more people will need a professional to help them navigate through even the simplest of bookings,” said Ola. “Even domestic travel is complicated. For instance, you need to be fully vaccinated, to go to PEI. And you also need to fill out a health and travel safety form, and so on and so forth. Nothing is easy anymore. And when you’re paying the same price as you are online, you would almost be foolish to not use a professional.”
Ola explained that during her time with Flight Centre, she came across multitudes of clients who made booking mistakes that wouldn’t have happened with an agent.
“They got burned,” she said. “And it’s not because they didn’t know what they were doing. They just got burned because they don’t do it every day. They don’t understand the terms and technicalities.”
You heard it, folks. So next time you’re booking a vacation, ask yourself a question. Who should you trust to iron out all the nitty-gritty details? Yourself? Or the travel agent who has visited virtually every spot on earth? Personally, I’d pick the latter.
Written by Peter Wilson