“I got into travel after school as I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up,” recalls Auto Europe’s Paul Durand.
“What I did know was that I had a passion for travel, so I went to travel school and became a travel agent until I figured out what I would do for a ‘real’ career.”
It turns out that travel would become a real career for Durand after all. After a holding a unique job during school as a diver in the aquarium of the West Edmonton Mall – where he was responsible for everything from cleaning to leading scuba tours (“My coworkers and I were affectionately known as the dolphin chew toys,” he recalls) – Durand started out as an agent with Travel CUTS, working his way up to the role of Operations Manager for Western Canada with the company, later moving on to the Alberta Motor Association where he worked as Manager, Education & Development for almost 10 years.
Durand would then start his own consulting business Key Tourism Services, which lead to working with Auto Europe, where he currently serves as the company’s regional sales manager for Alberta.
In addition, Durand also recently finished his term as president of Skal Canada, leading the professional association of tourism professionals nationally, which includes 17 clubs and more than 750 members.
Based in Edmonton, Durand’s day-to-day duties with Auto Europe see him meeting and interacting with “as many travel agencies and agents in Alberta as possible.
“My role is to promote booking with Auto Europe which is easy to do because of our unmatched customer service, pricing and commission. I get answers to questions and ensure any issues are acknowledged, actioned and resolved.”
This week, PAX checks in with Durand on why sometimes the best souvenirs are free, recreating restaurant menu items at home and the inside joke that he references in photos from every trip…
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
PD: I am a voracious reader, so I always travel with my Kindle. I am addicted to the peace and quiet I get from my noise-cancelling headphones, so I don’t leave home without them; and I’m not a germaphobe but I always feel better when I wipe down contact surfaces in my hotel room, so I also bring antibacterial wipes.
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
PD: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: a newly discovered spot I have been too a couple of times. It has quickly become a family favourite as it’s a relatively short, direct flight from Edmonton, is a bit more relaxed compared to other resort areas and is usually not humid, which is nice as you get the heat but not that sticky feeling.
The Canadian Rockies: When you have one of the most beautiful places on earth just a short drive away you must make the most of it! I try to get to the mountains – Banff, Canmore, Jasper – at least two times per year. It’s relaxing, the air is fresh and you can either do sedentary or adventurous stuff depending on your mood.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
PD: I would say Vancouver. the airport itself is bright, airy, has lots of space and I really enjoy all the indigenous art. It also means I’m staying in Vancouver, one of my favourite cities or on my way to someplace equally awesome! Any time I’m in YVR, it’s for something good or going somewhere good.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
PD: Everyone wants to feel like they belong and if you’re a lifer in this crazy industry, you have something in common – or perhaps a screw loose! – with all the other lifers. Travel is addictive and so is working in travel. I have had a few opportunities to move out of the industry over the years, but I need to be passionate about what I do and couldn’t find that passion outside of travel. I truly believe people are better with the experience of travel: it helps form who you are and opens your mind and if I can help as many people as possible experience our world, our world will be a better place.
I love my job as I get to be out there visiting hundreds of agents a month, sharing stories, learning, teaching and helping them be successful. When your addicted to travel, being a regional sales manager is a great way to get your fix!
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?
PD: My first non-family vacation I took was my first FAM trip, which was a European bus tour with TopDeck Travel, a bus tour company we sold a lot of at Travel CUTS. It was my first visit to Europe, my first time travelling with a bunch of agents my age and as you can imagine, it was an eye-opening and memorable experience. What is most notable about it is the friendships that were formed: I am still in touch with several of my travelling companions even though the trip was 30 years ago. That truly says something about the power of travel!
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
PD: I’m not the type who shops a lot when I travel, so I don’t really have a big splurge to tell you about. What I do have are a few random items that trigger strong memories for me. An example is a volcanic rock I picked up when hiking at the bottom of Mount Kilimanjaro on the Kenyan side. That plain, unassuming rock has always had a place on mantels or shelves in my homes over the years and every time I look at it or pick it up, I am brought back to that place in time. Powerful stuff and it was free!
PAX: Most memorable food/meal you ever ate while travelling and where you ate it?
PD: I like to think of myself as an amateur chef who is adventurous with food, so I have tried a lot of interesting stuff including kangaroo in Australia; alligator in New Orleans; frog legs in France; haggis in Scotland; tripe in Italy; fish head soup and a few other mystery meats in Hong Kong & China, but the most memorable has to be the Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya. They served meats on swords, walking around with different types and cutting off a chunk on your plate. Wildebeest? Sure. Giraffe? Why not. Zebra? Okay. I think I saw a vegetable at some point, but that place was certainly all about exotic meat.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
PD: Anyone who travels will experience flight delays at some point. My pet peeve is those that complain loudly about delays. Airlines work hard to be on time and if they are delayed because of weather or mechanical reasons, then I say take all the time you need to make sure it’s safe; actually, take a bit of extra time to double-check that it’s safe!
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
PD: My hidden talent would be cooking. I really like to cook, usually without a recipe. My thing is to try something at a restaurant and then try to recreate it at home. It may take several attempts and several visits to the restaurant but in the end, I have created a pretty strong repertoire of things I make. My favorites are usually Thai or Cajun, although anything goes.
PAX: When flying, window shade up or down?
PD: Up for take off and landing, but usually down during the flight so I can watch a movie, read or snooze.
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
PD: Many years ago, my wife read somewhere that you look best in travel pictures when you lay down on your stomach as it hides all the undesirable parts. Well, she took that to heart, and I have pictures of my wife and I all over the world laying on our stomachs! That’s fine for a beach photo, but in front of the Sydney Opera House? At Oktoberfest in Munich? It’s become a tradition and a running joke in the family. I must admit though, we do look pretty good that way.
PAX: What should travel agents be aware of right now in regards to Auto Europe?
PD: Auto Europe is serious about supporting travel agencies and travel agents. We negotiate great rates and offer excellent worry-free commission and we are there for you when something goes wrong, as it does occasionally in travel. Agents have so much on their plates these days that booking with a partner who you know has your back is so important.
Any time an agent gets an oddball inquiry that involves vehicles, they should try contacting Auto Europe. We have an incredible network in Europe and all over the world and our head office team love the challenge of fulfilling unique requests. Luxury cars, sports cars, motorhomes, car and driver – if you get the inquiry, give us a call and we’ll do our very best to make it happen.
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