with Gerry Koolhof, Cruise and Vacation Specialist, New Wave Travel, Toronto

Open Jaw

Where were you born? In Newmarket.

What was your first job? At a fruit market/gas station outside of Lindsay, Ont., where I grew up. My parents were beef farmers near Bobcaygeon.

How long have you been in the business? On the retail side, just about 10 years. Before that I worked for Wardair (and eventually Canadian Airlines) and in the AirMiles call centre. I was with another agency for 2 years, but joined New Wave 7 years ago because I wanted to work in a Virtuoso member agency.

Tell me about your first airplane ride. My parents are from Holland and when I was about four they took me home to Amsterdam. The flight was about 13 hours!

How has the business changed since you got into it? Night and day: not just the size of aircraft but the people are more sophisticated and knowledgeable. In the past it was a real treat to fly, certainly in Wardair days when everyone would really dress up to get on a plane. As a child I remember wearing a tie to fly. And I always had to get a fresh brush cut!

Do you have a specialty? Luxury cruising, and high end hotels. I spend as much time getting to know my clients as I do getting to know my suppliers. Virtuoso has been magical for me. And now 25% of my clients live in the US.

If you could have any job in the business what would it be? I’d like to supersize what I do now, getting more celebrity clients.   

What was your best fam? Last year I did a Silversea expedition cruise from Singapore to Phuket. It was amazing!

Who do you most admire in the industry? Mark Conroy. He started off in the mail room and now heads Silversea. He’s also a voice for travel agents, not just cruise lines.

What drives you crazy? Agencies that flood the market with misleading emails about deals that don’t really exist.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into a stateroom? Open the curtains and step onto the balcony.

Do you have a magic sentence to close the sale? I try to work the word “experience” in there, such as, “Let’s make this experience happen!”  

Do you have any time management strategies? I always have. I bear in mind the time difference when I email, such as emailing Europe late at night and when I get into the office in the morning the replies will be there.

What do you do to keep your clients loyal? Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up! I find sending a copy of the Virtuoso magazine often works well. When it’s a luxury purchase, a welcome note from me in their stateroom or hotel room is really appreciated. Last week, for example, I had clients in a US$1,900 per night suite at the Plaza in New York and I called them there just to see how it was going.  

If you had to spend six months in a destination, which one would you pick? Africa, Southern Africa. So much to see.  I would love to see the animals.  

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Selling real estate, especially now! 

If you or someone you know who is a front line travel agent in Canada would like to be featured in Biting Questions, please contact us.

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