Monday,  October 2, 2023  8:25 am

PAX Checks In with Manulife Travel Insurance's Judy Bunkall

PAX Checks In with Manulife Travel Insurance's Judy Bunkall
At Machu Picchu during a Goway FAM in 2014 (photo courtesy of Judy Bunkall)

For Manulife Travel Insurance’s Judy Bunkall, it’s only natural that the travel bug bit following what many would consider the trip of a lifetime.

“I got hooked after my friends and I took a two-month holiday to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji when I was 23 years old,” Bunkall recalls, who at the time was working in the tax department of the Alberta provincial government. “When I returned home I enrolled in the travel program at Grant Macewan College (now know as Macewan University).”

Upon graduating in 1987, Bunkall started out working as a travel consultant, spending 11 years as an agent at Marlin Travel, before moving into a managerial role, which she held for four more years.

In 2002, Bunkall moved to the wholesale side of the business as a business development manager for a number of tour operators including Signature Vacations, World of Vacations and Goway. In January 2019, Bunkall got into the travel insurance side of the industry with her current role at Manulife.

“I have had great opportunities to experience both the retail and wholesale sides of the travel industry, which is one of the perks in this industry,” she said. “There are so many different roles you can do and still be in the travel and tourism industry.”

Working as Manulife Travel Insurance’s business development manager for Northern Alberta/NWT, Bunkall works with agencies that that sell Manulife Travel Insurance, helping agents with insurance questions, as well as hosting insurance trainings and webinars for travel consultants.

“I attend conferences and regional meetings with our travel partners and work with independent travel agents to help them obtain their travel insurance license in Alberta,” Bunkall said. “I work with agency owners and managers to help their teams achieve the insurance sales goals set out each year. I work with a wonderful group of colleagues at Manulife and work with awesome travel partners.

This week, PAX Checks In with Bunkall on the merits of caribou over muskox, the hidden costs of buying art in-destination and an unforgettable encounter on the rural roads of Iceland…

Exploring the South African wine region of Stellenbosch (photo courtesy of Judy Bunkall)

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

JB: I know you think this might sound cheesy as I work for a travel insurance company, but T=travel insurance – I never travel without my travel insurance in place! Also, my cellphone and earbuds so that I can listen to my own music on the plane to relax and enjoy the flight. I always have a comfortable pair of shoes with me. If traveling internationally, I always have a few essentials in my carry-on, in case my luggage is lost or delayed.

PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?

JB: Australia: I have had the opportunity to travel there five times to date. Australia is so diverse, from beaches, to rainforests to deserts in the outback. The people are friendly and outgoing and no matter what your interests may be, Australia has it covered!

Peru: I had the opportunity to travel to Peru and visit Machu Pichu when I escorted a travel agent group while working with Goway. The actual site of Machu Pichu is pretty incredible, however, driving through the sacred valley and visiting local villages, seeing how the locals live was a highlight to me. Seeing the ancient remains of the irrigation systems that the Incan culture built for farming was pretty incredible. The food is amazing – such a great destination for foodies! Every meal I had was outstanding and lots of variety from fine dining to casual; you will also find great prices and value when eating out.

South Africa: this was definitely one of those destinations that was on my list before I retired from the industry! I had the fantastic opportunity to be one of the hosts that went from Goway when we took a group of Canadians and US Travel agents on a FAM to South Africa. Even though we only saw a glimpse of South Africa, I absolutely loved it. The highlight for me was staying at a safari lodge and experiencing a safari and seeing the Big Five. When you are in that open-air jeep and you have many of the wild animals within arms’ length from the vehicle, it’s pretty amazing. However, you cannot forget the great wine regions in South Africa; we visited three great wineries in the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch region.

PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?

JB: Changi Airport in Singapore stood out to me. It has been many years since I was through this airport but at that time, this was a favourite. However, I think the Edmonton International Airport has so much to offer now, with the changes that have happened over the past few years.

PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?

JB: I have to say what I love about my job is the people, both my travel industry partners and the team I work with at Manulife. The travel industry is an industry that you certainly get hooked on when you start  (hence 33 years later I am still in the industry). There are so many opportunities that you have within the industry to take on new challenges and grow your skills. I always say there is never a dull moment in this industry. The industry allows you to meet so many fantastic and interesting people both locally and internationally.

PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?

JB: My first overseas vacation was when I was seven years old. My mother was originally from England, so when I was seven my parents took my sisters and I to England to visit relatives. What was memorable was this was the first time I met my grandmother in person, who lived in Lincoln, England.

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

JB: I don’t tend to buy a lot of expensive items when travelling, however, I did want to buy a painting from a local artist when I was in South Africa. I found a great painting in a market in Cape Town of the Big Five. I only paid $50 CAD, however, to get it framed when I got home was about $150!

PAX: Most memorable food/meal you ever ate while travelling and where you ate it?

JB: There has been a few interesting meals that I have experienced in my travels, however, I have to say to most memorable was trying muskox and caribou for the first time, while staying at a back country lodge 60 miles east of Yellowknife (Blachford Lake Lodge). I enjoyed the Caribou much more than the muskox!

At South Africa's Cape of Good Hope (photo courtesy of Judy Bunkall)

PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?

JB: Rude people that just want to complain about everything while they are travelling.

PAX: What are your hidden talents?

JB: Not sure if this is a talent but I am told I do well at organizing events and trips.

PAX: When flying, window shade up or down?

JB: I tend to always take an aisle seat, however, I like the window shade up on flights.

PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?

JB: I think the funniest one that stands out to me happened in Iceland.

In 2014, I travelled with my sisters to England and we did a stop over in Iceland on our way home. We were on a tour in the Landmannalaugar region. The tour buses you take to this area are a 4x4 vehicle due to the terrain in the region; there’s not really any set roads and the area is all very open (very few bushes or trees) just the remains of the black lava of the volcanic eruptions years ago.

As we were making our way back to town at the end of the tour there was one point in the road/trail that you had a fairly long upward incline to reach the crest before you then headed downhill out of the volcanic area to the main road. Just as the bus made it to the top and headed over the crest, right there in the middle of the road was a vehicle stopped and one of the passengers was needing a bathroom break. There was no bush or rock one could go behind, so this passenger decided to step to the back of their vehicle - except right then our vehicle came over the crest of the road and the passenger from that vehicle had just pulled down their briefs!

Needless to say, everyone on the bus burst out laughing and it took a real effort for the driver not to veer off the trail before he stopped, for he was laughing so hard. Needless to say, you never saw someone pull up their pants so fast; however, they did have a good sense of humor about it all, as they were laughing as well at their not-so-well-timed bathroom stop.

PAX: What should travel agents be aware of right now in regards to Manulife?

JB: Manulife offers one of the best travel insurance plans in the travel insurance market, the Premium Protect Plan. This plan is the most comprehensive for travelers that are under 74 years of age and traveling for max 30 days. With all the world events that happen every day, this plan will give your client the best coverage and piece of mind. Manulife offers a wide range of products for all of your clients’ needs.

Manulife will be offering even more in-depth training opportunities this year for travel consultants to attend our new Manulife Academy trainings. These in-depth insurance trainings will help travel consultants become more confident in selling travel insurance. These will be hosted in many cities right across Canada, so we encourage travel consultants to come out and join their local BDM for these training sessions; as we like to say to the travel consultants, Knowledge is Power!

We encourage travel consultants to sell travel insurance to their clients within 72 hours, as most of the Manulife Travel Insurance plans will have the best and most comprehensive coverage if the plans are issued within 72 hours of the client confirming their trip.

Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!