Walkabout: Jeff Walker February 8th, 2017

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Travelling Grace-iously on Bayview

Glamour days of travel biz have past, but local stalwart keeps booking on

Jeff Walker/Streeter LATE DEPARTURE: Judy Grace of Express Travel on Bayview frequently works past closing time and on Sundays.

Jeff Walker Walkabout column logoRenew your passport well before the expiry date. Not doing so tops Judy Grace’s list of travel blunders. (I’ve been there, done that.)

Judy Grace is the face of Express Travel on Bayview, on the east side between The Source menswear and Your Clothes Friend, across from Satay on the Road.

While boss Lesley Szimeiszter mans the desk at the back, Judy (wo)mans the desk up front that’s clearly visible from the sidewalk. She seems to be constantly on the phone and Internet, or talking directly with clients who drop in, often way past closing time, sometimes even on Sundays.

While travel agencies may be going the way of video rentals and book stores, Grace predicts she and Szimeiszter could still be holding the fort a decade from now.

Other slicker travel agencies only doors away have come and gone in recent years—goodbye Marlin Travel and Flight Centre—leaving Express to rule the travel roost on Bayview. She notes that it’s the smaller agencies with older owners that are hanging in. Like Express.

Grace has been in the biz for a third of a century, until 2001 at CAA Travel at the Yorkdale plaza, and at Express ever since.

Both the staff grew up in communist Hungary, Grace leaving with her family in 1965. Canada or Australia was their preferred destination. Canada approved their immigration application a day before Australia did, so Canada it was.

One irony of her situation is that while travel opportunities got her into the business, the changing nature of that business is now closing off travel opportunities for her. She’d like do a safari in Kenya, but she’s got so many loyal clients gallivanting about the globe in any given month that she fears leaving anyone in the lurch while she’s away.

One thing’s for sure: the glamour of being in the travel biz has evaporated. Gone are the days when the likes of Virgin’s Richard Branson would mount an extravaganza event for travel agents. Naturally the ranks of travel agents are thinning out, seeing so much researching and booking of travel arrangements can be done by travellers themselves online.

It gets worse: often people will phone up Express, pick Judy’s brain and then do their own bookings, informed by Judy’s expertise. Then there’s the weak Canadian dollar of past several years that’s rendered holidays abroad more costly.

Luckily travel agencies get a percentage of the tour packages they book. And luckily too, those who have botched a self-arranged vacation in the past are only too happy to foist the job next time on a travel agent, and the more experienced the agent the better.

For instance, on your own you might be impressed by favourable ratings of certain hotels at feedback sites online. Hold on, cautions Grace; many of these supposedly-satisfied guests are paid for their praise.

As well, some package-tour companies cut too many corners service-wise and are to be avoided. And so on. Bear in mind that it only takes an ill-informed choice or two to wreck a vacation. It’s something to think about, with March break just ahead.