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Friday,  May 24, 2024 3:58 AM 

PAX Checks In with Club Med's Samantha Gillingham

PAX Checks In with Club Med's Samantha Gillingham
Samantha Gillingham, seen here in the French Alps, is a BDM for Club Med Canada, overseeing Ontario, Alberta, and B.C. (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.

Finnair’s cabin crew are partly responsible for Samantha Gillingham’s successful career in travel.

When Gillingham (who has Finnish and British heritage) was growing up, she spent her childhood flying back and forth between Canada and Finland. 

That’s when Finnair’s dignified flight attendants caught her eye.

“I remember their uniforms, beautiful hair and make-up, and how they walked with such pride and poise,” Gillingham tells PAX. “I wanted to be exactly like them and see the world.”

When she entered adulthood, she got to work, attending Seneca College to study hospitality and tourism management. (She also, at one point, took up art history at the University of Toronto).

In 2007, Gillingham, who was born and raised in Ontario, got her big break in the travel industry, landing her first job at Transat Holidays in Toronto in their call centre.

“I’ve always worked in travel. It’s in my blood!” she says.

Samantha, seen here in Air France's Business Class, has always worked in travel. (Supplied)

Today, Gillingham represents the original all-inclusive as a business development manager for Club Med Canada, overseeing the territories of Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Her number one mission? “Educate, educate, educate and staying top of mind with our travel partners!" says Gillingham, who has worked for the brand since February of 2020.

"I’m hyper focused on making sure Club Med is in everyone’s vocabulary when speaking about all-inclusive stays with their clients. Along with this, I’m a go-to person for our partners whenever they need something, want to grow their sales, close a booking, or even get creative with how they can promote Club Med.”

There are many things Gillingham loves about the travel industry, from the exploration and learning aspects to meeting new people.

“We get the opportunity to truly appreciate the world we live in,” she says. “From tasting new foods, visiting a new city, to listening to music that might not be in our everyday playlist, we get to live these experiences with likeminded people who have that same desire to travel.”

What she loves most about working at Club Med is that she gets to educate the industry about a brand she truly believes in.

Samantha (bottom, right) hangs out with travel advisors during one of "#SamsFAMS" in Val D’Isere in the French Alps. (Supplied)

“Club Med resort experiences are unique. We’re a niche brand that offers a one-of-kind experience,” she says. “It makes me so happy seeing our travel partners on one of #SamsFAMS, or even using our industry rates to discover our villages, and then bringing back those stories to their clients.”

Here, PAX Checks In with Gillingham to discuss Birkenstocks, sneezing uncontrollably in Asia’s largest spice market, and how Club Med has big plans for future growth. 

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

Samantha Gillingham (SG): Saje pocket pharmacy (you never know when you’ll need those essential oils! Jetlag…Am I right?); portable charger (with multiple charges and ports. I wouldn’t want to get stuck somewhere without a power source!); two pairs of Birkenstocks (a fancy pair and an everyday pair. For those who know, know what I mean).

PAX: What’s your favourite airport? 

SG: Amsterdam Schiphol. Easy connections, easy to navigate, tons of shopping, and it has the best airplane viewing areas. Every time I transit via AMS, I have a routine. First stop, House of Tulips, to get some of the best Edam cheese and of course, tulip bulbs. Then, grab a coffee and pastry from BREAD! Lastly, find that perfect viewing area and watch all the different airlines comes in from all over the globe.

PAX: What was the first trip you ever took? 

SG: Finland and Estonia with my grandmother. In Finnish, we call our grandmothers “Mummi.” Mummi took me everywhere. She showed me the small towns she grew up in. She showed me how to pick potatoes and sweet peas. We went to local outdoor markets and bought some of the freshest fish, fruits and veggies, then made those into an epic meal. Being on the Gulf of Bothnia, smoking fresh trout, having new potatoes with dill, going for a swim, a hot sauna, and taking in the epic Nordic midnight sun, there is nothing better in this world!

Samantha zooms in for a close-up while visiting Iceland. (Supplied)

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

SG: I try to keep my spending only to local items that are unique to that country. I’d have to say my biggest splurge was an authentic Icelandic wool sweater from Icewear in Reykjavik.

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

SG: Chicken tagine in Chefchaouen, Morocco.

PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?

SG: Bare feet on planes. And oversized carryon luggage!

Samantha visits Moab, Utah. (Supplied)

PAX: What is your funniest travel anecdote?

SG: Let me tell you about that one time when I went to Asia’s largest spice market in Delhi, India. First, we rode a rickshaw from the Red Fort to Khari Baoli – this was an adventure on its own, navigating through that traffic! When we arrived, as soon as you walked in, spices were piled on top of one another. It was a stunningly beautiful sight. As I walked through, the first level was pretty tame, with your traditional baking spices, cardamom, and cinnamon

Then, we started to walk up. The second level, spices started to get a bit more exotic. Once we ventured to the third level, we were told to take in the views of Old Delhi, Fatehpuri Mosque, and the Red Fort. Little did I know that the third level was also where they kept all the extremely spicy spices! My eyes were watering, my nose was running, I couldn’t stop sneezing. So, did I take in the views? Not fully, as they were quite blurry. My word of advice, take the views in first before venturing in to see all the different chilies!

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

SG: One year on a budget. I’d like to see as much as I can, eat all the food, and meet likeminded travellers throughout the trip.

Samantha enjoying a moment at Club Med La Rosière in France. (Supplied)

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

SG: Choosing me first. Putting my wellbeing first. Finding balance. Once you’re on the path to knowing and loving yourself, everything else will fall into place. Professionally, my biggest achievement was seeing how fast Club Med sales grew after the pandemic in English Canada!

PAX: What is your motto? 

SG: Everything will always work out in the end. Work through a challenge, and you will find a solution.

PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

SG: This is a tough question to answer as there can be so many ways to feel that sense of happiness. If I had to narrow it down, I would think my ideal idea of happiness would be feeling at peace. Sitting by the ocean, good tunes playing, a nice cold glass of rosé, and great friends around you.

Samantha (second from right) living it up at Club Med Cancun. (Supplied)

PAX: What is your biggest fear? 

SG: The unknown! This is why we need to live every day to the fullest and experience as much as we possibly can without having those “What If” thoughts.

PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band? 

SG: My playlists range from EDM, to 90s, to rock. If I had to narrow it down to one, I’d have to say Weezer.

PAX: What are your hidden talents?

SG: I have an artistic side, an eye for detail, and a very good memory. I love photography, I try to take my DSLR everywhere with me and snap photos of everyday life. I can also tell you about different paintings and sculptures without having to use Google.

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

SG: The number one thing I learned during the pandemic was that you had to wake up every day and find at least one positive aspect to focus on. That in turn would change your whole mindset to continue to persevere and make it through. Now, I still tend to do this daily. Some days are harder than others. However, we work in the best industry. We literally make dreams into reality. We must continue to focus on that.

Samantha cozying up to the law in Salem, Massachusetts. (Supplied)

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

SG: We saw a huge boom in bookings right when the world started to open up. People wanted to take advantage of that revenge travel trend. I know I did! Now, I feel that the biggest challenge is staff shortages, impacting all areas of the business from store front agencies to the operators, thus leading to longer wait times, less options for clients to choose from, and ultimately some business being turned away.

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

SG: Bucket list adventures and seeing multiple places in one trip. Travel demand is higher than the supply, so booking trips further out is a must!

PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Club Med? 

SG: Club Med TA! Your one-stop Club Med shop. Everything you need to know about Club Med can be found on our brand-new agent portal, from our booking engine, to viewing and confirming your bookings, quoting, all marketing materials, great advisor loyalty points info, and Club Med University where you can become a specialist!

We also continue to grow and innovate. Club Med has major growth plans over the next few years where our focus will be on Ontario, new resorts, renovations, ramping up our teams, and adding new elements on site to continue our legacy in being the pioneer of the all-inclusive holiday.

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