with Valerie Balderson, TTI Travel, Ottawa

Open Jaw

Where were you born? In Barrie, Ontario – my father was in the army and based there.

What was your first job? When I was 14 I started working as a cashier at McDonald’s in Gatineau.  I loved that McDonald's set such high expectations for their staff. It was interesting being an anglo in a francophone environment!

Tell me about your first airplane ride. I flew out to Vancouver to visit my boyfriend. Very romantic!

How long have you been in the business? This month I celebrate my first anniversary! I worked for 19 years in international development with the Canadian International Development Agency.

Did you travel a lot in that job? All the time, to many developing countries including Thailand, which I love. I’m lucky to have been to over 60 countries around the world.

So as a newcomer and an independent agent, how are you structuring your business? I am very upfront with my clients about being fee-based – for example, $500 to plan a honeymoon. I find that my clients respect that and don’t take advantage of my time.

How do you thank your clients for referring you? My husband and I have “adopted” an olive tree in Italy and I’ll send a bottle of olive oil from that orchard as a thank you.

Do you have a specialty? I’m working on it! But definitely in the luxury realm.

Who do you most admire in the industry? Lucy Viera, my director at TTI.  She has an unbelievable work ethic and is a terrific problem solver.

What drives you crazy? When a supplier calls a product “luxury” and it’s not. It might be good value for money, but not for the really discerning client.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into a hotel room? Put on my flip flops!

Do you have a magic sentence to close the sale? “I know exactly what you want.”

Do you have any time management strategies? Yes: I put my phone in a different room and turn off the sound on my computer.

If you had to spend six months in a destination, which one would you pick? Santorini, Greece, in the winter, when all the tourists have gone!

What do you do to keep your clients loyal?  Build trust. They know I cannot sell what I don’t believe in and share the same values they do.  

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I’d probably be in advertising – I’d love to come up with slogans and marketing ideas!

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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