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wasleys Feb 1st, 2008 04:57 AM

UK travel agent for self-drive visit to Canada
My wife and I are thinking of a trip lasting about six weeks Edmonton to Edmonton via Saskatchewan, south Alberta, Kootenay, Jasper, Peace River. We are having some difficulty in finding an agent that understands that we want a genuinely tailor-made trip, not a modified version of a standard itinerary.

We are coming to see the country, its history and way of life. We are not into tourist 'attractions', gracious dining, white-water rafting, spas or whatever.

We want to drive ourselves and spend 1-3 nights at a series of locations, some a bit off the normal foreign tourist beat. We want to be able, wherever possible, to make our own breakfast and dinner, have access to washing machine and so on.

We had envisaged stopping at motel or similar type of accommodation which would be flexible and practical with some sort of simple cooking facilities such as hob and pans (and, of course, be clean, safe and comfortable).

We are finding it difficult to find a travel agent who actually understands what we want and does not try to just shove us into the usual places they book which tend to be full-service hotels.

Please does anyone know of an agent in UK who could help?

Also are our expectations realistic or is that type of trip impossible in Canada? I know in UK it would be difficult, unless hostels were used, but we just had a very good trip round New Zealand in the style I described.

Thanks for getting this far.


SallyCanuck Feb 1st, 2008 05:50 AM

Do you really need an agent? If you're driving yourself and meandering to off-the-beaten path places what would the agent book for you? Most towns would have accommodation but not necessarily with cooking facilities nor washing machines but you could use a laundramat when necessary.

Is camping out?

What did an agent book for you in New Zealand?

kodi Feb 1st, 2008 06:26 AM

I have the same question as Sally. Do you really need a travel agent. You seem to have a pretty good idea of where you want to go.
By using google to search out different towns and also doing a search on Fodors here, it would be fairly easy to come up with good ideas.

You could rent cabins in many areas in the great outdoors. Most places have websites now, and you could prebook places to stay.

Did you stay in Hostels in NZ or Top Ten cabins?

Search out different trip reports on Fodor's. Map out an itinerary, and ask for advice here.
I think you'll be fine doing it on your own.

Good luck.

wasleys Feb 1st, 2008 07:09 AM

Thank you for your responses.

There are three reasons we want an agent. If any problems arise prior to or during the trip it will be the agent who has to sort them out, not us. There is reasonable financial protection in using an agent, especially if part of the trip suddenly presents problems. We have got better things to do than chuff around trying to make and put together a load of bookings ourselves.

We already know where we want to go and when and how we hope to do it. We want someone to put it together for us. Hence the question in my OP.

To answer the questions about NZ. Our agent booked flights, car and accommodation in (mainly) Golden Chain motels all of which had cooking facilities and nearly all with access to a washer.

Maybe Canada doesn't offer a similar option.


nohomers Feb 1st, 2008 07:59 AM

I can't imagine any travel agent willing to do this for you. The amount of effort would be too great for nominal fees received.

Also, if you use an agent in the UK and there are problems your agent will be 4000 miles and many time zones away (the time difference between UK and Alberta is 7 or 8 hours). This does not make sense to me.

wasleys Feb 1st, 2008 08:17 AM


The distance from UK is immaterial. That is what the incoming agent is there for.

LJ Feb 1st, 2008 10:12 AM

As a Canadian Fodorite, I really WANT to help, as I believe the other posters do...but this agent you have described is not something you are likely to find here in Canada. The reasons are oddly enough, probably political in origin...tourism is not viewed as a national effort here. Even at the Federal level, tourism is left to the funding of individual provincial efforts, by and large (there are sometimes matching dollars). So while YOU might as a Australian or Italian see a campaign for Canada as a whole, there is little matching infrastructure. Each province, however, the ones you list included, has its own tourism bureau and all have excellent websites (which I assume you have already found-sorry my server is being obdurate about cutting and pasting today).

Because of the political structure, provinces tend to do their own thing when it comes to the marketing of individual renters. (I know I am one, though not in any of the provinces you are interested in.) That really frustrates the kind of effort on the part of travel agents that you envision.

Now, if you still want to proceed with your plan (and I think its a great idea!) you are left with do-it-yourself (with our help and many of us have a lot of knowledge of the individual areas you are looking at.)There is also a very good website for B&B's called BBCanada that offers quite a number of facilites that have kitchenettes and laundry facilities on site.Do keep in mind, though, that BBCanada is just a listing service and does not take legal responsibility.

I am sorry that what you require is not, to the best of my knowledge, available here in Canada. Maybe it should be...this is certainly a good notion for those that don't want to spend the time and are nervous about getting stuck financially.

SallyCanuck Feb 1st, 2008 11:26 AM

LJ, wasleys wants an agent in the UK..."Please does anyone know of an agent in UK who could help?"

wasleys Feb 1st, 2008 11:30 AM


Thank you for your post.

I am not looking for an agent in Canada. That is why I twice refer to a UK agent: once in the thread title and once in the post.

I know the provinces handle their own tourism. I have been in contact with the three provincial bodies concerned (and local boards where appropriate). I know that Saskatchewan produces dull but useful information, British Columbia good information and Alberta rubbish. I have a lot of it and I (or more accurately on this last point, my wife) have done a lot of web-based research.

I also know that there are many UK agents who claim to 'specialise' in Canada. Most of these will do the usual tourist things from Pacific to Banff or Atlantic to Quebec, but don't even know where Saskatchewan and Manitoba are. However some do, the problem (which lies in UK, not Canada) is identifying them.

My question was specific and hopefully reasonably detailed and was trying to get information from people who have knowledge of booking into your country <u>from UK</u>, not those who know about what is not possible internally.

To date I have been concentrating on dealing with one who is fine on handling our destinations but is failing to grasp the nature of the accommodation and style of holiday we want. I don't like wasting agents' time so, apart from initial inquiries, I don't believe in setting several hares running. But in this case it may be time to extend the trawl, hence my post.


kodi Feb 1st, 2008 11:37 AM

Well said, LJ.
I'm not sure even a UK travel agent would be able to do this.

Wasleys, I think what you need is some sort of travel planner. You would pay them a fee to plan your trip, unlike a travel agent, who receives commission from the hotels.
But I'm not sure where you would get one.
I do know that there are, or used to be, such a person on the Fodor's forums.

Good luck with your plans.

nohomers Feb 1st, 2008 12:00 PM

Michael except for within the major cities (Edmonton) the type of accomodation you are looking for would likely cost under $100 (or 50 pounds sterling) per night. Even if the motels were willing to pay commission, the travel agent would receive very minimal fees for a lot of work. This is why no agent will do it.

toedtoes Feb 1st, 2008 08:41 PM

I'm also having a hard time figuring out what would be in it for the travel agent. The income they'd receive would be minimal, but it is clear that you will be holding them responsible for anything that goes wrong. That's not very good leverage to get someone to do all that work at a low end price scale.

Off-hand, I think someone like a travel planner (who would be paid directly by you) would be the most practical way to do this. It will cost you more, but will provide you with the &quot;in case of emergency&quot; insurance you want.

Otherwise, I would recommend planning it yourself. Staying in one place for 1-3 nights each won't kill you if you make a mistake on one. Trip insurance will help with major problems.

For cooking, it might be worth it when you arrive to buy a couple pans and a hotplate and travel with them. You can get a room with a fridge more often than not nowadays, so you'd have more options on where to stay. That means you can choose places that don't require deposits, lengthy cancellation notices, etc., so you won't lose more than 1 night's fee if you don't like a place.

I'm also confused on your comment &quot;That is what the incoming agent is there for.&quot; Does that mean your UK agent will be working hand in hand with a Canadian agent? Letting the Canadian agent deal with any problems that arise?

I can see that happening for high scale bookings, but at the lower end of the scale (where you'll be at), there won't be enough of a profit to split between two agents. I think you'll find it hard to find a Canadian agent willing to take on that burden for 1/2 of the fee and I think a UK agent would be even less inclined since the income would be even less with the exchange rate.

LJ Feb 5th, 2008 07:35 AM

I think we lost the Wasleys along the way, but this whole thread intrigued me. I believe the W's when they say they have used this sort of agent in the UK to do a trip for NZ, but frankly, I have never heard of such a thing.

Perhaps I have misunderstood: this is an agent that arranges B&amp;B's and short term accomodation in off-the-beaten-track small places with kitchens? In the Canadian or US context, I am guessing cottages and efficiency units in samll hotels and motels.

Do you think there is a market for this sort of thing on a broader basis? Would the Wasleys (and their ilk) pay the fees? Are there Fodorites out there who wish this service existed in North America and other contexts?

nohomers Feb 5th, 2008 08:36 AM

I don't think there is a market for this type of service in North America. I could understand if there was a language issue, otherwise the margins are too small and the country too big for it to work.

pirouette Feb 5th, 2008 12:36 PM

I understand that the OP wishes a UK based travel agent and that he has been very clear as to why. In my experience he would be better off using a reputable local agent who is familiar with the regions(s) where he expects to travel. There is some measure of protection if the agent is a member of the IATA or a similar local organization in Canada. We have used local agencies in Turkey, French Polynesia, Saba and in North America. the benefits are immeasurable because they understand the local market and can offer suggestions (and rates) that an off-shore agent cannot. For the type of holiday the OP describes, he may be best to start with the Auto Association-CAA in Canada, AAA in the US. I would expect there is a UK equivalent. They have maps, guidebooks and advisors(for a fee) who would be able to assist.

wasleys Feb 5th, 2008 03:45 PM

Thanks for the continued interest. Yes, you did lose me along the way but it has confirmed that what we had in mind is not possible in Canada. I think we had been misled by our NZ experience (related below) and had made the assumption the same would apply in North America.

In UK there are a number of national agencies operating to NZ. They offer flights with coach/rail tours or self-drive with car hire. Self drive can be in hotels, motels or farmstay. NZ has a group of (I think) independent motels called Golden Chain which link with these agents who will pre-book or give you vouchers for go-as-you-please. In our case we got flights, transfer to the first motel, car delivered there, all subsequent accommodation pre-booked to our specified itinerary and car collected from our last stop. This was a standard booking and was in no way regarded as a premium service.

We had also done something not too dissimilar the previous year to Faroe and Iceland, except that was by ferry in our own car with self-catering and farm B&amp;B.

The warning bells began to ring when we realised that the agent we used for NZ also specialised in Canada, but the brochure for there was very much at the higher, glitzy, honeypot places. We did not want to get into the backwoods but wanted to avoid the tourist traps and go to less well known places that would be more peaceful and less commercial. There is perhaps an analogy near where I live: the tourists go in droves to York Minster, we go to Beverley Minster which though smaller is arguably better architecturally and virtually empty. We also wanted to get into certain parts of Saskatchewan where my wife has roots.

This problem applied to most larger agencies to whom ‘tailor-made’ seemed to mean that you could choose the number of nights at the hotels they specified. Eventually we Googled up an agency which had a specialisation in arranging holidays for farmers to see other farming areas and looked promising. A detailed email of our expectations was followed by a most productive phone conversation. It all went pear-shaped when the first itinerary came from them in which the locations were those we had chosen but the accommodation was way, way off what we wanted.

At that point I posted here and my wife started Googling to check that what we wanted was available. She found that, by and large, it was and what there was might be cheaper than the agent was suggesting and certainly would be a lot more fun. We might also get to meet real Canadians rather than gap-year students and migrant workers.

As my wife had now got the bit between her teeth (there was a heat-haze over her Mac) and in view of the lectures from you lot we changed our mind. We have told the agent thanks but no thanks. We will now book flights when they are available, book accommodation round the route and arrange car hire.


toedtoes Feb 5th, 2008 06:00 PM

Great to hear that Michael! I don't think you'll be disappointed in doing it yourself. And there are lots of folks here who will be happy to answer any questions.

icithecat Feb 5th, 2008 09:15 PM

Welcome to the Canadian mode of travel. Have car, have cooler of beer and cheetos, have no need for stinking reservations. Accomodation listings from automobile associations and tourism offices and websites can be useful. I didn't even have reservations for our honeymoon, and here 15 years later, we fly to London and Paris again, so she is still around. There we have reservations, because we don't have a car.

So, while you check out rural Canada, we check out all the old stuff in Europe.

wasleys Feb 6th, 2008 03:48 PM

<i> And there are lots of folks here who will be happy to answer any questions</i>

I’m glad toedtoes said that! It so happens that my wife, Koko fashion, has a little list of questions.

Some background to our time in Saskatchewan is that her grandfather was Russian who came to Canada in early C20th. He lived in Sutherland (Saskatoon) until enlisting in Canadian Expeditionary Force. After the war he had a homestead near Luseland. We want to discover what life was like for the early settlers in the area. Her father came to Canada with RAF in WW2 and was based at North Battleford.

<b>Intending to visit</b>
Ukrainian cultural heritage village, Edmonton
Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton
Western Development Museum - North Battleford Heritage Farm &amp; Village
Western Development Museum - 1910 Boomtown, Saskatoon
Western Development Museum - Transport &amp;
15 Wing Military Aviation Centre, Moose Jaw

Are any of these not worthwhile? Are there any other places we really ought to visit?

<b>Opinions on the following appreciated</b>

<u>Fort Battleford National Historic Site</u> Intending to visit Fort Edmonton. How different is Batleford? What will we see here which we won’t see at Fort Edmonton? Is it worth doing both?

<u>Biggar Homestead Museum</u> (Roger Martins homestead museum) Any information about this one? What is there to see? Is it worth visiting?

<u>Saskatoon Forest Park</u> Not interested in zoo but in the history of the forestry settlement there. What is the self guided walk round old farm buildings like? How much is there to see? Is it worth visiting? How long will it take? Are there other places in the area we ought to consider visiting?

<u>Ukrainian Museum of Canada, Saskatoon</u> Intending to go to Cultural Heritage Village at Edmonton - what extra would we gain from doing this one at Saskatoon? Would it repay time invested?

<u>Wanuskewin Heritage Park</u> Any comments on this one - scenically as well as historically? Is it worth a visit, or are there more interesting things to do and see in the area?

<u>Western Development Museum - Transport and 15 Wing Military Aviation Centre, Moose Jaw</u> How long do each of these take? Is it realistic to try and do both on same day?

<u>Cypress Hills IP</u> - Any difference between Saskatchewan or Alberta bits? Scenically, which gives best return for time spent? What is the best way of tackling this?

<u>Fort Steele Heritage Town</u> Any comments on this? How good is it? How does it compare with Fort Edmonton and WDM North Battleford’s Heritage farm and village which we intend to visit? Is there anything extra we will see here, or is it more of the same?

<u>Canadian Museum Rail Travel</u> Cranbrook. What is this like? Is it worth trying to fit in a visit if time allows?

<u>Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, New Denver</u> Any comments on this - ought we to consider it?

<u>Revelstoke Dam - Revelstoke Railway Museum</u> What are these like? Would they repay time spent?

<u>Historic Dunvegan, Fairview</u> What is there to see? How long will it take? Have already visited Fort Edmonton and WDM North Battleford’s Heritage Farm and village. Is it worth doing this as well, or will we already have covered similar?

I'm sure that's more than enough!


LJ Feb 7th, 2008 07:49 AM

Your questions are excellent and specific, but much more likely to be answered under a new need a title that will draw out our Prairie Pro's.

(Now, when you want to come to Nova Scotia or Newfoundland/Labrador, just say the word and I, among many others, will help you out!)

Have a wonderful, western trip, Wasleys!

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