Sidney’s travel agency charts pandemic path – Saanich News

Upon entering the Expedia Cruises office in Sydney, you are immediately drawn to the enormous floor-to-ceiling wall map of the world, which dominates the room. Continents and countries in different shades of blue are alluring and promise exotic places and adventures.

The map, rightly so, is the mainstay of a spacious travel agency with six light-colored wooden desks containing computers and guidebooks and brochures with photos of striking travel destinations.

Sitting at one of the desks near the back is a smiling and welcoming Elaine Kirwin. Two other staff are in attendance – more than you would expect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was difficult,” says Kirwin. “For about 13 months, we have no more income. As you know, travel has been hit hard, especially cruises. It was a shock that this pandemic and economic downturn lasted for so long. “

She says two things kept the company going: “First of all, the government has been very good with both rent and wage support. Keeping us in business was smart because once things get back to normal we can work and pay taxes. This is good, because tourism is huge, since it represents 10 percent of the economy. The second is that I love this job. I love to travel and discover new places. Being in this office is never boring. I don’t plan to retire for quite a while.

Kirwin came to Sidney in 1988, having spent her previous life in Saskatchewan and then Calgary. The travel virus entered his bloodstream early, likely under the influence of living among polar bears and beluga whales for four years in the northern town of Churchill, Man. She fondly speaks of seeing patches of northern lights majestically sweeping the sky at night, as well as the unusual but charming sight of swans gliding elegantly among the icebergs.

The Expedia Cruises office opened in 1992. Kirwin responded to an opening in 1994 and, although having no travel experience, was immediately successful, captured by the magic of exotic locations and the pleasure of helping. and working with people. In 1997 she bought the franchise and since then has built a vibrant and successful travel business.

She lives in Sidney, near the office.

“It’s a wonderful place to live with great schools and everything that is so accessible,” she said. “And it’s a great place for a people-focused business because I meet a lot of my clients in town.

Kirwin has three daughters, all of whom are adults and have each developed their own unique life and career. One, Heather Wood, followed in her mother’s footsteps and became the office manager in 2019.

Designating numerous trophies lining part of the wall below the enormous map of the world, Kirwin said, “Of Expedia’s 270 or so offices in North America, only 20 have become Diamond Centers, and we are one of the ‘between them.

Kirwin points out two characteristics necessary to earn the distinction: interpersonal skills and hard work.

And what are Kirwin’s favorite places to travel?

“Europe is my favorite destination,” she says. “And I particularly like Portugal. The people are friendly and the food and wine are delicious. I really like river cruises because you get closer to the region and you learn so much about a country.

She also launches a glowing description of a recent tour of Vietnam and Cambodia: “It was beautiful, Vietnam is a wonderful country. Parts of Cambodia, with the sad backdrop of the battlefields, were touching and inspiring, ”she adds.

When asked when people might start thinking about travel again, Kirwin said they’re already starting to see bookings. “There is an incredible pent-up demand that will explode soon. By spring 2022, travel is expected to return to normal and tourism will really take off. It will be fast and furious.

She said Alaska cruises are already starting and that Expedia Cruises recently offered an ultra-long 47-day cruise to Europe, involving five ships in 18 countries. “Before COVID, this package would have barely sold. Now, however, even though the tour won’t take place until 2023, it sold out in one day when it premiered in February. It’s incredible.”

And when the post-pandemic rush arrives, Kirwin will be ready. “We keep busy practicing, educating ourselves on all the cruises, tours and destinations – yesterday I was on three Zoom calls so we can deal with the furious business when it arrives later this year.”

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Saanich peninsula

Willie R. Golden