FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Coreen Calvert
August 12, 2014
Life was simple then – in high school. She was both cheerleader and athlete (basketball and volleyball). She’s still a cheerleader for staff and family, and the sports have evolved – skiing, golf, gardening, grand-mothering and travelling as much as she can!
Nobody knows travel troubles like a travel agent – we call them to fill our dreams, change our plans or find our luggage …
Recent years have been tough times for travel agents – first the airlines stripped away their commissions, then internet services took their large bite of market share, computer-using clients ‘book their own’ at an unprecedented level – so what’s a travel agent to do? Many have folded, left the business or just faded away.
Coreen Calvert is a contrarian – she’s grown, evolved and transformed her agency from a one-off adventure of her own to being the Calgary link in a seven-office western Canada chain of franchised independent offices called Travel Masters.
In the beginning …
There was a dream – that began when teenager Coreen saved up to buy a ticket to visit Toronto to see her cousins. That first solo-flight ignited a dream of travel. She’s done a lot more than she ever dreamed – but the path has been crooked. Her dream to be a flight attendant (in those days being bilingual was a requirement) was not fulfilled – but now her daughter is doing just that with Air Canada.
Born in East End, Saskatchewan, first born of seven children, her father was a travelling salesman (drill bits), her mother a teacher turned stay-at-home mom. Early life in a trailer being hauled around western Canada (all over Saskatchewan, Banff, Canmore), then Calgary – landing in Springbank in 1957 where she attended K-12, Coreen recalls a busy household of seven children. When asked if their parents were Catholic, her brother advised the nosy person they were just sexy-protestants.
Early work years were customer service jobs – retail, dealing with customers, a husband, small children – and a love of travel still burning from that first flight at sixteen, disappointment at not becoming a globe-trotting flight attendant. Coreen’s travel industry career began with a travel agency course at Mount Royal – coupled with her travel-bug dream: Brisson Travel, Kennedy Travel, Woodwards Travel, Perlas Travel – and then establishment of her own, Integrity Travel in February 1992.
After all those years as an independent agency, why did you become a franchisee with Travel Masters? Her answer: “I saw it as better for our clients (and for me!), market clout of seven offices dealing with tour operators expanded our offerings. Better administratively so we can spend more time focused on serving our customers.”
I asked Coreen how she sees travel agency business – and the travel industry generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… really good, which is unusual for summer when the weather here is so great. The industry is doing well because the economy is doing well – both for corporate travel and vacation travel. Lots of people going to Europe. Cold winters here are always good for business – so last winter was terrific. We’re hiring!
And over the next five years?
…. It is going to get tougher – people aren’t coming to us for little things as much as they used to. They book it themselves. Travel agents have to specialize in something where they can add value for their customer – like adventure travel, destination weddings, golf junkets … that kind of thing where they can specialize in and develop a niche business. It is becoming harder – more challenging – to run a bricks & mortar agency. Having agents work virtually, from their own homes, is a growing trend. Agencies and tour operators are going to continue consolidation – tightening up to avoid over-capacity being sold off at discounted prices.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… personal attention is important. I’m a price conscious shopper who appreciates quality and follow-up service. I’m loyal. For instance, I love Home Depot. Rona, not so much … because, on balance, the quality isn’t there as much.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Coreen Calvert, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… doing a lot of work to meet our clients' needs, meet their budget. Service. Following up après-trip.
How would you describe your leadership style?
…open door policy. I’m a bit of a pushover. I engage in a lot of mutual back-scratching. We help each other out. Since we’ve joined the Travel Masters group, my administrative and accounting load has dropped significantly – more streamlined. I’m away a lot travelling. I have very independent staff – I don’t have to manage them as much as I manage the business.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… what every small business owner frets over – cash flow!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my brother died when he was 25. That drove home that life is short – and that if we aren’t happy, we should do something about it. That was an important part of how and why I started Integrity Travel. Helen Werbisky and Yvonne Eager (former colleagues at Woodwards Travel) who encouraged me to start my own agency.
Work life balance?
…I have it now. Work used to rule my life. Now I have more of a balance. I go home at 4:30 instead of 10:00. Traveling with friends. Three adult children, two grandchildren.
… golf, travel of course, gardening, hanging out with friends and family - and sometimes building a gardening shed!
What do you read?
… not a big recreational reader. I like Nora Roberts. Mysteries. Easy reads – Danielle Steele romance novels.
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