Biting Questions with Leah Shilliday, Senior Travel Consultant, Vision Travel Solutions, Calgary

Open Jaw

Where were you born? In Calgary.

What was your 1st job? At the Calgary Public Library downtown when I was 14. I earned 50¢ an hour stamping books!

How long have you been in the business? Since 1986 – I showed up at a Greece-specialist travel agency and asked them for a job since I wanted to go to Greece. And they gave me one!

How has the business changed since you got into it? The technology has changed from sitting on a phone to access airline information to booking it in your own system. And from handwriting tickets to virtual tickets. Detailed databases in your computer – I can’t imagine living without half of this stuff. 

Do you have a specialty? Leisure FITs and vacation packages. Worldwide – but mostly Europe.

If you could have any job in the business what would it be? Exactly what I’m doing.

What was your best FAM? I don’t do a lot of FAMs because I think they are so scripted. I guess the best one was the one to Greece when I first got into the industry, an independent one. It was excellent. 

What drives you crazy? My huge pet peeve is passwords! Every company in the world has different requirements for passwords and access… I don’t deal with one company, I deal with 500! 

What was your biggest individual sale? I’ve had 2: one was a private jet around the world that cost USD 75,000 per person. The insurance alone was $12,000. Plus I’ve sold a Travcoa tour to Greece, Italy and France that cost USD 110,000.

What’s the 1st thing you do when you get into a hotel room? I leave my bags at the door and I check to see that the lock works on the door and windows, that the taps in the bathroom function and the toilet flushes. That way in case something doesn’t work I can change rooms with no hassle.

Do you have a magic sentence to close the sale? I engage each and every individual according to their needs and guide them to what they should do – which is not necessarily what they think they should do. I guess if I had a magic sentence it would be: “We’re going to find a holiday that suits you and your family the best.”

What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked? Pick one! (laughs) I had a client scream, and I mean scream, “Why are you wrecking my trip?” I was booking him to Europe. He wanted to do 3 countries in 5 days and was absolutely furious that I was “wasting” a whole day by booking him an overnight transatlantic flight that arrived the next day. He couldn’t believe that I was able to keep my job despite being so ignorant. I fired him as a client, by the way.

What do you do to keep your clients loyal?  My cell phone number is on my business cards because I want my clients to feel they’re not alone when they travel and we can resolve major issues while they are away.

How do you cope with jetlag?  I’m lucky that a client gives me a business class flight anywhere I want to go every year, so “flying business class” is my answer. But common sense also dictates you should eat light, no meat or alcohol, move around and take mini-naps.

What is your customer service approach? The biggest thing that the clients who have been with me a long time like that I am very honest with them, even if it’s not the answer they want. It will be the truth.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?  “Listen. Don’t try to be the one who’s always talking. Ask questions and listen.”

If you had to spend 6 months in a destination, which one would you pick? Portugal – not just because my husband is Portuguese, but because the people there are so helpful and the country itself is so diverse and preserved.

If you or someone you know who is a front line travel agent in Canada would like to be featured in Biting Questions, please e-mail


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