New Canadian Finds Success as Vancouver-Based Travel Counsellor

When grey winter skies start to give people the blues, travel counsellor Ruth Suarez knows just how to help. Since 2006, Suarez has worked with Mi Tierra Holidays, a travel agency in Vancouver, BC. Mi Tierra specializes in arranging visits and vacations to Mexico and Latin America, as well as tours of Canada’s West Coast. After five long years trying to find a rewarding job in Canada, Suarez is thrilled to use her sales skills and friendly personality to help people create the perfect vacation.

Born and raised in Mexico, Suarez’s path is one that many new Canadians can likely identify with. She moved to Vancouver in 2001, armed with a university degree in tourism and relevant work experience. But getting even low-paying jobs was difficult and working in her field seemed out of reach. It was depressing, she admits, and frustrating.

“I remember the first job I had here,” she recalls. “I had to work very hard for five dollars per hour, because I didn’t have Canadian experience, even though I had my degree.”

Suarez’s successful start in Mexico hadn’t come by giving up and she wasn’t going to do so now. Her career had begun when working toward a degree in accounting and gaining experience at a local firm. One of the firm’s clients was a travel agency and through working with them, she realized she had a passion for tourism. Despite the time and money that had already gone into her accounting career, she quit the program and moved to Guadalajara. There she successfully completed a Bachelor of Tourism degree and joined a local travel agency, working in a job she loved.

Fate intervened when she met her future husband on a trip to Vancouver; she moved to Canada to start a new life with him. Five years later, she was working at a dry cleaning shop when she met Arturo Hernandez, a travel counsellor who helped her arrange a trip home. He was on the brink of opening his own agency, Mi Tierra Holidays, and when he did, she went in to buy a plane ticket. He, in turn, offered her a job. It was the opportunity she’d been waiting for.

Today, Suarez helps arrange trips and tours for Mi Tierra clients. A typical workday involves scouring the internet for interesting travel opportunities and working the phones to make arrangements. Her Mexican heritage has been a boon to her career; in the travel industry, a second language and first-hand experience in a foreign country are valuable assets.

Most importantly for her career, she has gained professional Canadian accreditation through the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors (CITC). The CITC’s help was instrumental in helping advance her career in Canada, she says, and it also helped her regain her self-confidence, which had been damaged by the move.

“The CITC recognized my Mexican experience, which was a great opportunity. Most professionals in other fields start from zero when they arrive here,” she explains. “I’m so glad CITC exists and supports professionals – they gave me the opportunity to prove my knowledge and then recognized it. Because of CITC, I’m somebody in Canada. I’m a certified travel counsellor and proud of it.”

The job is not without its challenges. She is a wife and mother and has to accommodate all the demands those roles require. Her job isn’t a typical nine-to-five, because clients often want to do business before or after their own workday. She often stays past 5 p.m. at the office or works at home late into the night.

Although the work is tough, she says, the rewards are definitely worth it. One of her favourite parts of the job is helping friends and family visit their loved ones. “We help them celebrate the most important moments in their life,” she says of her clients. “We are always there for them.”

Asked if she had any advice for other new Canadians in similar situations, Suarez’s advice is this: “Never give up hope,” she says. “In this industry you are going to find a lot of support. Tourism is made up of people with warm hearts who are always willing to help others and share their knowledge. You will have a lot of opportunities to succeed.”