Open Jaw’s Canada Day Series: Ian Duffy, President, Royal Irish Tours

by Martha Chapman

Ian Duffy

We are once again celebrating our industry leaders who made Canada home. If you were born in Canada, it can be easy to take this country for granted. Not so much if you were born thousands of miles away. In celebration of Canada Day, we’re spending time with some senior execs in the travel business who have chosen to make Canada their home, and who have made a significant contribution to our industry.

Each year, thousands of Canadians discover the charms of Ireland. Here’s a man who exported his own charm – and travel industry expertise – to us. 

Where do you live? In Richmond Hill.

Where were you born?  In Dublin.

What are your memories of Dublin? It was pre-internet and we played football and games in the streets and had great fun. I’ve now spent half my life in Dublin and half in Canada – but my affection for Dublin has never waned.

When did you come to Canada? In January 1988:  the weather was terrible and I’d never seen 2 and 3 feet of snow so it was a bit of a challenge without proper boots or coat! I had to do some emergency shopping!

Why Canada?  I ran Chieftain Tours in Dublin which sold tours to Canada and inbound tours for Canadians to Ireland. I’d travelled quite a bit to Canada in those days and things like the multi-plex cinemas and skyscrapers so impressed me. Then I met a Canadian girl and we married so that made it much easier to move here!

What was your 1st job here? Luckily Sunquest offered me a job as general manager for European product. It was great in that I was dealing with old friends and colleagues back in Ireland every day. I worked there for 7 years.

What do you appreciate most about living in Canada? The opportunity it’s given my family. In the 1970s lots of people emigrated from Ireland to North America, even to Australia, thinking the grass was greener – and that’s just what I found. In Ireland there was high unemployment, and even modest incomes were taxed 45 or 50%.  Here I found a better style of living and more opportunities for me and eventually my children. It was definitely the right way to go!

If you could live anywhere in Canada, where would it be? I’ve visited a few cities across the country but I do love Toronto. I love to go downtown and enjoy the buzz and I still stare at the skyscrapers to this very day. Retirement?  Perhaps Niagara-on-the-Lake or Collingwood for now I’m staying put.

What do you think would make Canada an even better place? To me, it’s already a better place. We poll as one of the most liveable and likeable countries in the world. Small, niggly changes perhaps. The Toronto subway should grow. But that’s small in the overall picture.

What do you think you’d be doing if you had remained in your home country? Probably working in travel and hopefully by this stage running my own company selling trips to North America.

How do you traditionally spend Canada day? Normally a big family barbecue - and this year my sister is coming over for the 1st time in 16 years. She’s never spent Canada Day here so that will be great fun. And maybe watching the European football (soccer) championships!

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