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Saturday,  July 13, 2024 1:41 PM 

Monday Minute: Cynthia Davidson of Beaches and Beyond

  • Agency
  •   07-08-2024  10:59 am
  •   Pax Global Media

Monday Minute: Cynthia Davidson of Beaches and Beyond
Cynthia Davidson of Beaches & Beyond seen here in Nunavut at the Port Leopold Hudson's Bay Company Outpost. (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

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!

Name: Cynthia Davidson

Business: Beaches & Beyond

Where do you live? Burlington, ON

How long have you been a travel advisor?

I've been a travel advisor for almost 20 years.

What is your specialty?

Oh gosh, I've tried to be everything. However, just before COVID, I started narrowing my niche to expedition and small ship/river cruising, as well as adventure and experiential travel. I've been focusing on experiences and destination immersion.

What inspired you to become a travel advisor?

My first love used to be medical sciences and pharma many years ago. Unfortunately, I suffered a series of health issues and could no longer work in that field. My second love was learning about geography, weather and ocean patterns, and environmental/animal life cycles. Essentially, how the world "lives.” This passion for nerdy science stuff led me to discover that I could learn so much more about the world through travel. I decided to share this passion by learning how to help others plan their trips too. An added bonus was that I found that I could be my own boss, work from home, and at my own pace.

What’s the first trip you ever took?

As a child, I took several trips to Florida to visit my grandparents, who were snowbirds. My first adult trip was a typical all-inclusive vacation to Puerto Vallarta (prior to getting into the industry). During that trip, my favourite part was when we left the resort and immersed ourselves in the local culture. This ignited that spark for my wanderlust and worldly learning!

What travel trends are you seeing these days?

I've noticed that more travellers are looking to truly immerse themselves in destinations. With higher budgets, people are seeking unique experiences and off-the-beaten-path locations. Popular destinations that have been trending for me include South America (such as Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile), Scandinavia (including Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway), and Africa (safaris, but also places like Morocco and Egypt).

Cynthia Davidson seen here in Norway while on a Swan Hellenic fjord cruise. (Supplied)

I've also noticed a growing interest in small-ship ocean cruising, which allows access to smaller ports and longer stays that big ships can't offer. Additionally, there's a surge in demand for expedition cruising (my favourite!) and river cruising.

Many clients are turning to me for advice on unique travel spots and experiences. They often ask, "Cynthia, where should we go that's different and not well-known?" They are relying on advisors to help them discover new and exciting places. It's amazing how many people are unaware of the diverse travel opportunities our world offers. While I don't know everything, I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting experiences beyond the typical tourist spots.

This trend reflects my focus. However, my team is doing an amazing job with booking all-inclusive trips and big-ship cruises plus several other destinations (like Italy, Greece and Portugal).  I feel almost everything is trending. It really comes down to what type of traveller/client you have in your database!

Of all the bookings you've made, which itinerary are you most proud of?

There are quite a few! Two that stand out are an expedition cruise to Antarctica combined with a land tour of Patagonia (Argentina and Chile), and a three-week tour throughout Argentina (from top to bottom). Some of the activities were not typical for the region and a bit challenging to plan, but I managed it, and the clients were thrilled with everything!

Cynthia Davidson (right) and her husband visit Machu Picchu in Peru. (Supplied)

What’s the most memorable trip you ever took?

Without a doubt, Antarctica. I will go back! It's an incredible trip that can't be fully described. Words and pictures don't do it justice—you have to experience it. It was truly life-changing. I came back wanting to quit the travel business and save all the whales! While I didn't do that, it inspired me to make better choices in my daily life, like being more conscious of my buying habits (like sustainable products and what stores I support) and educating others about sustainable practices while travelling. I'm definitely not perfect, it's a learning curve. But it also influenced me to promote companies with strong values on environmental and sustainability practices.

Where do you see your business one year from now?

I am working on fully focusing on my niche. While I'm not there yet, and still take on some business outside my passion, my plan is to eventually say "no" to anything that doesn't align with my focus. I aim to have my team assist those clients, or refer them to trusted advisors who specialize in what they're looking for.

What’s one new skill you’ve acquired recently?

It's challenging, and I'm still working on it, but I've been learning to say "no" to new business that doesn't fit my niche. I'm getting much better at this, and when I do say no, it feels really good! It's like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, knowing I won't have to do what doesn't make me happy!

What would you change about the travel industry? 

I certainly have more than one thing to say here.

First, airlines need to stop labelling “staff shortages” as safety issues. Too often, safety issues are used as an excuse to avoid fairly compensating passengers and there is no transparency about the real reason for the delays and/or cancellations. Compensation should only be exempt in cases of weather or force majeure, circumstances genuinely beyond the airline's control. While safety is of the utmost importance, it’s difficult to understand why no compensation is provided in these instances. Maintenance is the airline's responsibility, passengers shouldn't bear the burden when something needs to be fixed.

The lack of compensation for cancelled bookings from suppliers is an ongoing issue that agents seem to have accepted as standard practice. When a booking is paid in full and completed, agents receive their agreed-upon commission percentage. However, if a booking is cancelled, the supplier retains the penalty amount without compensating the agent. Agents should receive their commission portion/agreed upon percentage of the penalty at the time of cancellation. This occurs even when the client incurs 100 per cent penalties—if the client doesn't travel, the agent receives no commission. Meanwhile, the supplier keeps the entire penalty amount and can potentially resell the space.

Cynthia visits Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. (Supplied)

Understandably the space might not resell. However, the commission built into the trip has been accounted for on the supplier's end when an agent makes the booking. So why are agents not paid the commission on the penalty? I've questioned several suppliers about this practice, and many agree it’s unfair. It’s unjust and needs to change. Agents have done the work. They deserve their share. This is not all suppliers, but I believe the majority operate this way.

We also need better systems that are more automated and give the agent more control over bookings. Things are improving every day, but I do feel our industry lacks updated technology.

What’s the secret to being successful in this business?

Success in this business comes from finding your passion and focusing on it. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Specialize in a couple of areas and become an expert in those. Build strong relationships and always prioritize the client's experience. 

What is your motto?

Experiences over things!

What is your number one piece of advice to other travel advisors?

As mentioned above, find your niche and focus on it—don't try to be everything to everyone. I made that mistake and am now working to correct it. It's tempting to take on any business that comes your way, thinking, "This will only take a few minutes to quote," or "It's small but easy," or "Maybe this client will return for a bigger trip later." However, this approach often backfires.

Cynthia and her husband somewhere in Antarctica with Hurtigruten. (Supplied)

Clients might come back for similar small bookings, but when they plan a major trip, they might not consider you because they think you only handle small tasks like flight bookings. Stick to your niche and become known for your expertise in that area.

Where are you travelling next? 

My hubby and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year and I let him pick "where" this time. So, Italy with G Adventures – their Local Living - Sorrento trip – at the end of September it is! I’m super excited to see Italy on a different level and support local.

After that, I'm working on hosting a group to Morocco (also with G Adventures) next May. I'm sure we’ll try to squeeze in something else in between those. Another expedition cruise, maybe?

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