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Wednesday,  May 22, 2024 7:36 PM 

PAX Checks In with Uniworld’s Ernie Balint

PAX Checks In with Uniworld’s Ernie Balint
PAX Checks In with Ernie Balint, strategic account manager, Eastern Canada, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

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 Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

People who work in the travel industry “are the luckiest people in the world,” says Ernie Balint. “Myself included!”

“We sell a dream. An idea. Something that is intangible, and for many travellers, it can be an experience and memory of a lifetime.”

Balint gets to do this every day as a strategic account manager for Eastern Canada at Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, where he has worked for just about a year now.

The travel pro was born in Serbia and has a Hungarian background. His parents immigrated to Canada when he was just two months old.

Today, Balint lives in the “City of Waterfalls" Hamilton, ON (which is said to have the highest number of waterfalls of any urban area of its size!)

Travel has always played a part in his career.

Ernie on board Uniworld's S.S. Beatrice. (Supplied)

“I jumped into the travel industry shortly after graduating from Sheridan’s Tourism and Travel program back in 2009, which now seems like an eternity ago!” he says. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been fortunate enough to work in many sectors of an industry I love for 14 years now.”

At Uniworld, which is part of The Travel Corporation, “every day is different and unique,” Balint says. “Which is why I love what I do.”

On any given day, he could be consulting with his “wonderful agency partners and advisors,” educating them to “truly understand the Uniworld difference.”

“And helping them present that difference to their clients through consumer events, one-on-one client meetings and, in short, helping them grow their luxury river business,” Balint explains.

“I love that I get to wake up and my job is to talk to advisors and consumers about something that I am truly passionate about – travelling and experiencing the many rivers of the world!” he says.

Here, PAX Checks In with Balint to discuss Mariah Carey, tasting roasted pigeon in Egypt for the first time, and the two things that travel advisors should know about Uniworld right now. 

PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?

Ernie Balint (EB): I always, always, always, travel with my extra battery pack, my iPhone (which doubles as my camera, lifeline for music, maps, e-mails, entertainment – you get it) and my noise cancelling headphones for those long flights!

PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?

EB: Travelling to visit my grandparents and family in Europe when I was very young. The excitement of the airport, the new surroundings, the hustle and bustle of the airport(s) and sitting in the window seat of the plane and looking out the window, mesmerized by the clouds, and being 35,000 feet in the air. I think that was the first time I realized that I always wanted to feel this excitement when I travelled. Luckily, I still get excited about my trips!

PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?

EB: One of my favourite splurges was the first time I upgraded to business class when I was flying to Israel. It was worth every penny, being spoiled with good food, wine and having a good night’s sleep on the laydown. Anytime I can justify the upgrade, I do!

Ernie on a camel ride through Egypt. (Supplied)

PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you ever ate while travelling?

EB: I’m a huge foodie, so for me, I always get excited to try new things. One experience that has stuck with me, which I now get teased by my husband about, is the time I tried a very small piece of roasted pigeon while leading an advisor FAM in Egypt. Let’s just say I won’t be having roasted pigeon anytime soon!

PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?

EB: Rude travellers and TSA. We all have bad days, but I think if everyone took a deep breath and were a little more understanding and tolerant, things would go a lot smoother.

PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury or travel for a year on a budget?

EB: At this point in my life, I would much rather travel in luxury for a month and appreciate the finer things in life. But the biggest reason would be that I wouldn’t want to leave my beloved fur babies for an entire year!

PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?

EB: I think this one’s very obvious – for me, my biggest achievement would be making it through the pandemic, working in an industry that I still love, and waking up every day thinking how lucky I am to be alive, healthy and have all my loved ones in my life. I’m much more grateful for everything.

People who work in the travel industry “are the luckiest people in the world,” says Ernie Balint, photographed here in Egypt. (Supplied)

PAX: What is your motto?

EB: Be yourself. It took many years for this motto to truly resonate and make sense.

PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

EB: Where my life is right now! Travelling the world with my husband, family and friends, and making epic travel memories that we can look back on one day and say, “I can’t believe I/we did that!”

PAX: What is your biggest fear?

EB: Funny enough, my biggest fear is heights. I’m fine on a plane, looking out the window, but get me to the top of the CN Tower or any skyscraper and my heart starts to race and my life flashes before my eyes! As long as I don’t look down, I’m fine!

PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?

EB: Mariah Carey for Christmas and old-school Britney Spears.

"The top travel trend this year is definitely luxury travel," says Ernie Balint. (Supplied)

PAX: What are your hidden talents?

EB: My ability to imitate voices, animals, and accents. And no, I will not gobble like a turkey!

PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life and business?

EB: I eluded to this a little, but I’m a lot more grateful in my professional and personal life. Learning to take a step back and take a breath when things get a little hairy, taking everything and every day one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?

EB: Geopolitical issues and the ever-changing landscape of the geopolitical world. I often hear from consumers who are worried about travelling to certain parts of the world due to turmoil, regardless of whether the country is thousands of kilometres away from where they will actually be sailing or travelling. We need to find solutions to better educate the consumer in hopes of helping ease their anxieties and worries. I use my personal travel stories all the time to try and overcome those objections. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t!

Ernie gets a kiss from a furry friend. (Supplied)

PAX: What do you think this year’s top travel trend is?

EB: The top travel trend this year is definitely luxury travel. We’re seeing a huge surge of consumers spend record amounts of money on high-end experiences, whether it be river, ocean, or land. On the Uniworld side, our guests are spending the money to book our highest cabin categories first, they’re spending more money and more time in destination, booking our unique pre/post cruise extensions as well. The luxury traveller is not scared to pay for what they want!

PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Uniworld?  

EB: Uniworld has one of the best advisor rates! Education and experience are key to successful sales. We know this at Uniworld and this is why we offer advisors 60 per cent off (for up to two cabins) on select departures and itineraries (space dependent). We also want to make 2023 The Year to Remember. We’re offering very generous savings on many of our 2023 departures, including waived solo supplements on many departures for 2023 and 2024 coming soon!

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