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Friday,  July 19, 2024 5:49 AM 

PAX Checks In with Lorna Richards of Unique Vacations Canada

PAX Checks In with Lorna Richards of Unique Vacations Canada
PAX Checks In with Lorna Richards, a national training manager at Unique Vacations Canada, which represents Sandals and Beaches Resorts. (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.

Many in the travel industry know Lorna Richards for her contributions to Sandals and Beaches Resorts, but the professional from Montego Bay, Jamaica didn’t always work in tourism and hospitality.

Richards’ working life, in fact, began at Jamaica’s most prestigious high schools, Wolmer’s High School for Girls, where she worked as a teacher. 

“And here’s a fun fact,” Richards tells PAX. “Gary Sadler, our esteemed executive vice-president of sales, attended Wolmer’s High School for Boys. But I’d like to go on the record to say that we were there at different times!”

Teaching was “a dream,” Richards says. Until that dream took on a new life and the travel industry came calling.

It was November of 1988 and Richards, at the time, was living in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.

“My father kept prodding me to get into the travel industry because he felt that I was tailor-made for it,” Richards says. “In hindsight, I think it was probably more selfish reasons on his part because he wanted me to be closer to him on the North Coast of Jamaica. My mom had passed away, and since I was her caregiver, I felt that chapter of my life ‘in town’ had closed.   It was time for a change, even though I really enjoyed my job in Kingston.”

It was Richards’ father who got her an interview at the former Boscobel Beach Hotel, which is now known as Beaches Ocho Rios

She was hired as a Kids Program Director “and I absolutely loved it,” Richards says. 

Then, in May of 1989, Richards got a call “out of the blue” from the then-general manager of Sandals Ocho Rios, asking her to interview for the position of public relations manager.

“I got the job and my career with Sandals Resorts started. The rest is history!” she says.

Lorna helps travel advisors grow their Sandals and Beaches business as a national training manager. (Supplied)

Over the years, Richards worked in various roles at Sandals and Beaches Resorts in Jamaica. Until 2001, when she migrated to Canada, to London, ON, where she still lives today.

That same year, Richards joined Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI) Canada, the sales and marketing arm of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, and currently, she helps travel advisors grow their business as a national training manager. 

“In many ways, what I do now (training) is kind of like a full-circle moment from my early days as a teacher,” Richards tells PAX.

Her day-to-day duties include creating, implementing, coordinating and delivering all aspects of Sandals and Beaches training for the Canadian travel trade – from travel advisors to tour operators to tourism board partners.

What does Richards love most about her role?

“It allows me to be as creative as I can be,” she says. “I also get to work with some of the greatest minds in the travel industry.”

The travel aspect of her job is also a huge perk. “It’s given me the chance to meet so many amazing people from around the world, across the Caribbean and coast to coast in Canada,” Richards says.

“I’ve even met some celebrities – and yes, I’m going to name drop a few – including Gabrielle Union, Kelsey Grammer and Kanye West (long before he became YE!)," she says. 

One of the best things about the travel industry, Richards says, is that it’s “constantly changing.” 

“There’s never a boring moment,” she says. “There are so many moving parts and people.  It keeps things fresh and you’re never stagnant.  I absolutely love that.”

Here, PAX Checks In with Richards to talk about hidden talents, a close encounter with David Letterman, and why Sandals never sits still.

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

Lorna Richards (LR): There is a standing joke amongst my family and friends that I have everything but the kitchen sink in my travel bag. But truthfully, apart from my very important travel documents and wallet, I never travel without my ginger tea or ginger sweets, my AirPods and my laptop if I am traveling for work.  If it’s a personal trip, I’ll switch out the laptop for a romance novel.

PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?  

LR: Donald Sangster International in Montego Bay, Jamaica. For a few reasons: it’s home and they’re constantly adding shops and restaurants to improve the facility. Plus, I know so many people that work there, so I feel like a celebrity when I’m passing through! I’d have to say that London Heathrow Airport is a very close second.  There’s so much to do there. It’s like a city unto itself.

PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?

LR: When I was a tween, my entire family went to London, England.  That was my first trip.  It was amazing and so memorable for me because my two older sisters were living there and I hadn’t seen them in ages. We all had such a blast. 

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

LR: In London, England, four years ago, where I purchased an expensive designer item in the world-famous Harrods. I still have the iconic green shopping bag.

Lorna, smiling in Saint Lucia. (Supplied)

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

LR: I have had a few memorable meals over the years (including jerk chicken on the beach in Jamaica with Kanye West), but I’d have to say the most spectacular meal I’ve ever had while travelling was at The Rainbow Room, on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Plaza in mid-town Manhattan in New York City.  It was the 1990s, and while the meal was amazing, it was so much more than the food.  The whole experience – the views, the live entertainment, the rotating dance floor – is something I’ll never forget.

PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?   

LR: Inconsiderate people who throw their seats back without even a thought about who is sitting behind them. And people who talk loudly on an early morning flight.

PAX: What is your funniest travel anecdote?  

LR: I’ve got a couple actually. I once travelled with my Dad and Stepmom who, without my knowledge, had brought their own food on the flight. They opened their containers full of oxtail, plantains and rice and peas and the wonderful aromas starting wafting through the cabin. My Dad tucked a napkin under his chin and started to eat. At first, I was a bit embarrassed but amused more so.  Needless to say, they had packed a meal for me too, and I was glad they did. I dug right in and finished everything!

Another time my husband and I were in New York and we went to a taping of the David Letterman Show.  I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was my most dignified self in the line before they let us in.  Not my husband though. He was laughing, he was loud, he was chatting with everyone and generally just carrying on.  Well, when the doors opened, we were immediately brought down to the front row, to sit right across from David Letterman and his guest that night, Woody Harrelson.  I found out later that it was my husband’s jolly behaviour that got us those seats. His plan worked!

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

LR: There’s no question – I would definitely travel for a month in luxury.  I absolutely love the finer things in life and if I could do it for a month, with all the bells and whistles, sign me up.

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

LR: I have done a lot of wonderful things in my career, including being part of the team that opened Beaches Negril (the very first Beaches resort in our chain). But more recently, after returning from ‘my hiatus’ after the pandemic, I’m very proud of the online/virtual training programs I’ve created for UVI Canada, specifically our Masterclass sessions and “Sandals and Beaches in 10 Minutes” – both of which were tremendously successful as Canadian advisors really responded to them.

On a personal level, I work with the London Chapter of “Light The Night” in support of the Leukemia Society of Canada. Just raising funds and helping out with a cause so near and dear to my heart is a tremendous personal high.

“I get to work with some of the greatest minds in the travel industry," says Lorna Richards. (Supplied)

PAX: What is your motto? 

LR: I cannot control what people do and say. I can only control how I react.

PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

LR: Being in Jamaica, with the ocean as my backdrop, with my husband, sons and some members of my extended family. We’re just relaxing, listening to music, soaking up the lush, tropical and scenic ambiance.  A bottle of Red Stripe Sorrel and some Escovitch fish are somewhere in the mix also.

PAX: What is your biggest fear?

LR: Drowning and not fulfilling my purpose in life

PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band? 

LR: This is probably the hardest question of all. I love music, so choosing just one is tough.  Can I narrow it down to my top three singers?  Mary J. Blige, Bruno Mars and the late, great Dennis Brown (Jamaican reggae singer). In terms of bands, my faves are Frankie Beverly & Maze and Earth, Wind & Fire.

PAX: What are your hidden talents? 

LR: I sing, but lots of people don’t know that (well, they do now!) and I like to think myself as a good cook. At least that’s what I’m told.

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

LR: I no longer sweat the small stuff. I try to keep in touch (as much as possible) with the people I love and care about.  And the main one is that I no longer put off what I can do today. Why wait for tomorrow? On a professional level, I do my job with even more passion and I’m also having a much better work/life balance.

What does Lorna, seen here in Jamaica, love about the travel industry? "There’s never a boring moment,” she says. (Supplied)

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

LR: I believe that inflation (thus affecting pricing) is a big challenge right now.  And of course, negative world events also have an impact (sometimes small, sometime big) on our industry. 

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

LR: I’m seeing a few. Bespoke vacations with enhanced personalization and customization is a big one.  Luxury travel has never been hotter. Also, people want to reconnect with friends, family and the world at large.  Health and wellness travel is also on the rise, especially coming out of the pandemic. 

PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about Sandals and Beaches Resorts?

LR: One thing advisors should know (if they don’t already) is that Sandals never sits still.  We continue to work hard daily, to innovate and elevate the all-inclusive industry, to build and develop relevant partnerships with travel advisors who are committed to learning (and selling) “the Sandals difference.” With new destinations, new resorts and new resources for travel advisors, we’re always moving forward.

As we enter the era of “Sandals 2.0,” we also want our partners to become “Travel Advisors 2.0.” So, we’ve developed a series of training initiatives to help advisors get to this level.  We’ve launched our series of 2023 Masterclass sessions called “The Sandals Effect – Forging Into The Future.” We’re laser-focused on helping Canadian advisors grow to their highest potential. Advisors can contact their local Sandals BDM to find out more and I’m looking forward to seeing them in class. Remember, I was a teacher! 

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