“I have the best job in the world!” exclaims Julie Davidson, Trade Manager for Visit Flanders. Julie visits Flanders four to five times a year and shows agents and tour operators around a destination that she has fallen in love with. When Julie was hired to work at Visit Flanders, she had never been to Belgium!
She started work on a Monday and went to Flanders on Tuesday and has been there 17 times in the last 4 years. She has become the expert in the office even though her colleagues are Belgian. When Julie goes to Flanders she stays in hotels, goes sightseeing and eats in restaurants to stay keen on the culture of Flanders.
Travel Research Online: What first inspired you to work in the travel industry?
Julie Davidson: I’ve been traveling since I was about 7 or 8 years old and was instantly hooked. My aunt and uncle didn’t have any kids and they loved to travel and I was ready, willing and able to join them! My first airplane ride was when I was 8 from Washington to New York—I was scared to death! Mind you, back then people didn’t travel the way they do now.
TRO: What is your personal favorite thing to do while in Flanders?
JD: I love to wander around. I’ve been to Bruges 17 times (or so) and I still get lost but I don’t mind. Around every corner I find something interesting. I also love the “Gin Bar” in Ghent called t’ Dreupelkot. In this hole in the wall they serve over a hundred flavors of jenever (flavored gin) and they are really delicious.
TRO: What is your role with Visit Flanders? What does your position entail?
JD: I am the Trade Manager. I interact with Tour Operators and Travel Agents in the US and Canada. My job is to get people to offer/sell Flanders! Toward that end, I do 4 fam trips a year to Flanders. I truly believe that there is no substitute for experience. Agents fall in love with Flanders and hopefully recommend it to their clients. I also give numerous webinars a year and attend trade shows representing Flanders. In fact, my next webinar is coming up on Sept. 18th with Travel Research Online. Here are a few webinars on Visit Flanders! How to sell flanders Fabulous Flanders
TRO: Visit Flanders is an incredible resource and it has a lot to offer someone interested in traveling to Flanders & Brussels. Can you give a little background on the services Visit Flanders provides?
JD: While we don’t do any bookings here ourselves, I can recommend hotels, restaurants, dmcs, sites and make itinerary suggestions.
TRO: What do you think is the most valuable aspect of Visit Flanders?
JD: The ability to give impartial advice.
TRO: Let’s say I’m an agent with a client that wants to travel to Flanders. Why should I be in contact with Visit Flanders?
JD: Because we are experts in the destination and will make the best recommendations for their clients. We recognize that not every agent has been there and we try to help agents look like superstars to their clients.
TRO: Do you have any advice to agents who may have a hard time selling Flanders to their clients?
JD: Yes. First of all, every weekend and all summer long Brussels offers outstanding value for money. Hotels in London and Paris don’t come close. Speaking of London and Paris, they are just around the corner. Paris is only 80 minutes away by Thalys (high speed train) and London under 2 hours by Eurostar. Flanders is a wonderful addition to any itinerary going to London, Paris or Amsterdam. When the clients get there they will be very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful architecture, amazing food and drink (mussels, fries, waffles, beer and more), how easy it is to get around by rail and just how widely English is spoken.
TRO: Does Visit Flanders have any upcoming events?
JD: Yes, the end of this month the Red Star Line Museum will open in Antwerp. The Red Star Line was a Belgian-American shipping company that sailed from the 1870’s to the 1930’s. Over 2 million Europeans emigrated from mostly central and eastern Europe to the US on the Red Star Line. The buildings were disused and neglected and have been under renovation by the same architects that renovated Ellis Island. We are very excited about this project and think it will be very interesting for American visitors. Visit www.redstarline.org for more information!
Another thing coming up is the 100th anniversary of World War One, 2014-2018. Flanders figured very prominently in the War and a lot will be happening over that time period to commemorate the War including special art exhibits, concerts and more.
TRO: Is there anything else you’d like agents to know about Visit Flanders?
JD: We’re here to help. Check out our website at www.visitflanders.us You can also e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call me anytime (646)448-7162