After three decades in business, a local travel agency is saying bon voyage next month.
Shiela and Bill Chapman decided to retire last year and have been working on winding the business down. They’re not sure what specific day that the doors will close permanently, but it will be by the end of March at the latest when the lease expires.
For its entire existence, the business has operated out of 710 18th St., in the same strip mall as Toymasters and Little Caesars. The office is almost like a second home, adorned with knickknacks and souvenirs brought back as gifts from clients visiting diverse locals.
There are small items, like a small model of the pyramid at Chichen Itza. On the larger end, there’s a large African mask carved out of wood that must have been difficult to transport back to Canada.
Many of their clients are locals, but their customer base also includes corporate customers as well as clients from across the border in North Dakota and Minnesota.
While they’ve enjoyed their work, they decided that it is time for them to spend more time with their family and do some travelling of their own.
"It’s been awesome," Shiela said. "Really enjoyed it. It’s been different every day and that’s been a bonus."
The pair say that the industry has "hugely" changed over the last 30 years. Once they had to write plane tickets out by hand and get put on hold for long phone calls to confirm bookings. Now everything is done online and electronically.
Bill said that having to write down travel and financial details for every trip they sold was extremely time-consuming. "That was eight hours a day, five days a week," he said. "Now I can be in and out of here in two hours."
While all-inclusive vacations are still available and fairly popular, Shiela said that customers are opting for a different approach to their travels these days. Travellers want trips customized for them rather than buying a cookie-cutter experience from a catalogue.
Shiela said that a great lesser-known vacation spot is Seychelles, an archipelago made up of more than a hundred islands off the eastern coast of Africa just north of Madagascar. She said that it has great beaches and warm weather but usually isn’t as busy as other hot spots like Mexico or the Carribean.
She added that a lot of South Pacific countries like Fiji have a lot to offer as vacation destinations. For history buffs, she recommends taking a trip to World War landmarks and monuments in France, especially if people have a personal connection.
Modern technology also helps customers come into the office more informed about what kind of experience they’re looking for.
"They come in and have a pretty good idea of what they want to do, they’re just not sure how to do it and how to put it together," Bill said. "And then there’s always the what-ifs. What if something happens? What if it doesn’t go right? What if this person I booked doesn’t show up, that kind of thing. As a travel consultant, that’s where you come in."
Shiela spoke about the satisfaction of hearing from customers that their vacations went well.
"It gives you a really good feeling that their holiday, that they only get so much time a year (for), they had the best time and they made some great, great memories," she said.
"When you’re dealing with somebody, they’ve worked all year to get those two weeks, three weeks (off), whatever they’re doing," Bill added. "You want to try to make sure it meets their expectations or exceeds it."
The Chapmans said that they’ve tried to treat their customers like family and have stayed in touch with many of their customers from throughout their years.
"Over the 30 years, we’ve made a lot of repeat customers," Bill said. "Their kids have grown up with our kids."
On a Facebook post announcing their retirement made on Thursday, more than a dozen people commented to congratulate Bill and Shiela on their retirement and to say how much they’ll be missed.
Though the doors are closing in March, that won’t mark the couple’s complete retirement. They’re remaining available to customers who have already booked trips to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Their family is likely to use their services, too. One of their daughters is getting married this year and mom and dad have helped arrange the honeymoon. However, it won’t be a destination wedding.
As experienced travel agents, they’ll be able to use their expertise to plan their own holidays from now on. They’re looking at doing a European river cruise on the Rhine and would like to visit Portugal at some point.
» Twitter: @ColinSlark