Hot Flashback

by Martha Chapman

SkyLark’s last brochure...

A classic even back then: BGI’s Sunset Crest

A bevy of smiling destination reps

Party like it’s 1979!

Remembering “The Good Old Days” in the Canadian Travel Industry

SkyLark

If you’ve been in the industry for a long time, the name SkyLark is sure to bring back memories. The exciting product! The innovative glitz! The racy FAMs! (But more about that later.)

To bring back memories, I spoke with 2 well-known individuals in the industry who got their start in the business with SkyLark: Lawrence Elliott, Sunwing’s recently-retired Group Vice President, Business & Corporate Afffairs and Susan Webb, who is now President of VoX International.

“When I was hired as a sales rep I had to buy a map because I wasn’t 100% sure where Jamaica was,” recalls Elliott who worked for the operator from 1975 until its demise in 1982. “Within days I was on an aircraft full of travel agents going to Acapulco on a FAM. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

The product was solid sun destination ITC stuff: Florida, Jamaica, Mexico, Nassau, Hawaii, Barbados, etc. Plus a few European products such as coach tours and long-stays in Portugal. “We moved about 50,000 passengers a year – compared to 2 million a year now with Sunwing,” recalls Elliott. “That included a tiny sun program in the summer such as to the Emerald Beach Hotel in Nassau, which I remember sold for $249 – air included. Taxes were a pittance, $17 maybe.”

SkyLark had just 2 gateways: YYZ, which used Wardair for lift and YUL, which used Quebecair.

And in an era where the concept of branding was unheard of, SkyLark developed a great brand, partly through ensuring every passenger got a plastic beach bag with the logo prominently displayed. 

FAMs were very common, Elliott recalls, often taking up an entire aircraft and everyone running around the hotels with their instamatic cameras. “Did we charge for FAMs? If we did it was 20 bucks. We worked hard and we partied hard. Oh my lord. I remember going to [Mexico’s annual trade show] Tianguis and coming back from the disco at 6.30 to shave and shower and start the work day. Everyone smoked. Everyone drank. And no one went to the gym back then.”

Susan Webb has tons of memories of SkyLark too. “Such an amazing group – we were all so young. I started as corporate sales manager when I was 22 at $11,500 annual salary and thought I was the richest person in the world!” By 24 she was national sales manager.

Her job, she remembers, was to take their biggest retail clients - Sears, The Bay Travel, Eaton’s, Marlin - and, as she puts it, “service them to death.”

One definite no-no was socializing with the competition, which at the time was primarily Sunflight. (To appreciate how competitive the 2 were, think Coke and Pepsi.) “Once at a trade show we were at a dinner with competitors and I mentioned something about one of our key retail partners and Lawrence Elliott kicked me so hard under the table I may still have the bruise.”

But as quaint and straightforward their business model seems today, there were tremendous innovations, such as an ITC product for what we’d now call Millennials. Called Shazam, it was cheap (from $298 for a week including air) offered no single supplement match-ups and included a lot of parties and, um, mingling. “We’re not a swinging singles club, but when you bring together a crowd under 30 for a week-long action-packed party in the sun, something is bound to happen to someone!” the brochure said with a wink. After all, Shazam stood for “Sun! Happiness! Action! Zest! Amour! More!”

“It was a great time in the industry,” says Webb. “We worked together, we partied together – most of us were young and single – and everyone who worked there would say the same thing. People trusted their travel agents who trusted their tour operators. No discounting. Great product. Great memories!”




Comments

Diane McLean - January 7, 2017 @ 12:01
woah, what wonderful memories, and so happy ones! I worked at SkyLark from '76 to '82. I was in SanJUan for few months and then I was in Acapulco until Skylark closed, I was one of the most fun years of my life, thanks to all, greatest team to work with!

Marcella DeAngelis - January 6, 2017 @ 22:01
Worked at SkyLark right out of Humber College Travel & Tourism from 1974-1982 when it closed. Those were the days when you could start in the Reservations Dept and get promoted to Supervisor, Manager and Product Manager in 8yrs without a University Degree-- just hard work. We weren't paid much but felt heard and important which made us work harder and yes we were all young and played hard too. Proud to say that many of my close friends today are friends through SkyLark from over 40+ years ago.

Linda Wright - January 6, 2017 @ 22:01
I started there in 1973 as secretary to David Sparkes. When the 3rd reservations line rang, I had to answer it and take bookings too in those enormous binders - hotel rooms on one side and air seats on the other. I was also on the notorious Canary Islands fam mentioned by Lynda Hurdis. Then there were the weekends to SJU when we'd take the Saturday Wardair flight down and return on the Monday one and the times we'd fly to ACA for a weekend or FPO for the day. We had such fun times and I am still in touch with many of my old colleagues including 2 of the destination reps featured in the photo above - Linda Robillard and Lynda Sherriff. We worked hard but we had so much fun too. I stayed until SkyLark closed - by which time I was Customer Relations Manager - and I remained in the industry for 40 years. Fond memories indeed.

Lynda Sherriff - January 6, 2017 @ 20:01
This brings back wonderful memories! I worked at SkyLark from '77 to '82. I was a destination rep and worked in Greece, Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. In fact, the brochure picture on this page was taken on the steps of La Concha Hotel on Condado Beach in San Juan. We had so much fun!

Linda Robillard - January 6, 2017 @ 19:01
Skylark was top notch training and cultivated a Life I had not even dreamt of! So thankful and still grateful!

Jill Wykes - January 6, 2017 @ 13:01
Love the throwback piece on Skylark. (should be on Thursdays though, no?) Keep it up, let's have CP Holidays, Wardair, Carousel, Suntours, Thomson Vacations, etc.

Hanna - January 6, 2017 @ 11:01
What a Blast from the Past. Let's have one of these posts at least once a week. Those of us that have over 30 yrs under the belt love to look back and reminisce :)

Lynda Hurdis - January 6, 2017 @ 10:01
Worked at Skylark from 73-77, no computers then...everything done by pencil in huge reservations binders. Ticketing staff stayed up all night to prepare the manifests for the flights as they were all typed...even tickets were typed. We had a great staff then. Best fam I remember we took agents on was the Canary Island weekend...three islands, lots of hotels, great meals, and late nights at the disco. Very little sleep but such a great time. Loved Wardair..great airline, amazing staff and service back then.

Ranka Matejic - January 6, 2017 @ 10:01
Ahh, the good old days, Lawrence Elliott was my sales rep for Oshawa when he first started way back....

Leo-Paul Cormier - January 6, 2017 @ 10:01
Love this article... I still remember having a Skylark beach bag. My parents went to Acapulco back in 77.... Good old days! Wow how times have changed... No all inclusives back then, we went and paid for everything all day long! Baby O & Boccacio Disco in Acapulco, the best :)

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