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Travel Tuesday Q&A with Marc Télio of Entrée Destinations

Marc Télio on a polar-bear expedition in Canada last year.

Native Montrealer Marc Télio was just 23 when he opened a travel company specializing in high-end trips to Canada and Alaska. Seventeen years later Entrée Destinations continues to offer travelers the highest standard in service and unforgettable experiences, like helicoptering into a remote lodge in Manitoba for a polar bear photo safari or cruising British Columbia’s Gulf Islands by yacht. For some of us, these spectacular tours will be filed under “Canadian inspiration”, since they don’t come cheap. But in life and in travel, as Marc says, you get what you pay for.

I’m sure you frequently hear how amazing your job is. What prompted you to found Entrée Destinations and what was the path leading up to that point?

My job is pretty amazing, you are right and I am lucky! The path I took is almost typical for many tour operators. When I was young my family traveled and I fell in love with travel from a young age. When I was 19 I took my first serious trip to India and Nepal and was bitten by the travel bug.

After university I went to Japan for a year and a half, continued through Southeast Asia for about six months and spent a year working in the Australian tourism industry. (I worked in backpacker hostels, booking tours and “busking” to pick up travelers from the airport and get them to stay with us.) I finished that chapter of my life with some time in Africa and a climb to the peak of Kilimanjaro.

After that, I knew that my only path was to open up my own travel company. From the start I knew that I wanted to open a tour operation that would welcome guests to Canada. I was 23 years old and knew nothing about business and how to open a travel company. I had nothing to lose, and I followed my dream.

What are some of the most outrageous trips you’ve organized?

Glacier picnics, helicopter dogsledding, walking among wild grizzly bears while they hunt for salmon…lots of life experiences in the wild. But even our best-selling trips could be considered outrageous. One of my favourite trips spends three or four nights in Whistler Resort, then on a private seaplane to a yacht parked in BC’s Inside Passage, then back onto the seaplane to the tent camp at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort for three nights of adventure, and finishes with a luxurious stay in one of Vancouver’s top hotels.

If money and time were no object, what should everyone do in Canada?

Wilderness resorts and wildlife viewing [are] what visitors consider most exotic about Canada. British Columbia is blessed with stunning wilderness resorts, dotted along the coast, the Inside Passage and the interior, [where] guests can experience salmon fishing, horseback riding, sea kayaking, whale watching, bear watching, hiking and a number of fabulous adventures. [I’d recommend] grizzly bear- and polar bear viewing expeditions. We have private grizzly bear viewing along the British Columbia–Yukon border, and polar bear viewing on the Hudson Bay [Manitoba], in sub-arctic climate, walking on the tundra among the largest carnivores on the planet. It’s surreal to walk among bears in the wild.

What trends do you see in luxury travel in Canada or worldwide?

Well, thankfully, people are spending money again. But there has been a major shift in the past few years. Our guests are looking for less opulence and more down-to-earth trips—back to basics, but still with good wine, service and the creature comforts. An increasing number of luxury travelers will bypass a posh hotel in search of a rustic cabin on a river teeming with bears, or an elegant outpost tent in a rainforest. People are traveling with less flash and more conscience. And thankfully, it’s becoming hip to combine tourism with conservation and philanthropy. I hope this is more than a trend, I hope it’s permanent.

What was the last trip you took? What were the highlights?

The last Canadian trip I did was with my wife and children to Sonora Resort, in Desolation Sound [British Columbia]. This was to mark all four of our birthdays and the end of the school year. We flew up the Inside Passage in their Agusta helicopter and enjoyed a long weekend away, complete with bear viewing, whales and lots of marine life, hikes in the rainforest, fly fishing and chilling in the spa. There is nothing like a trip to the wilderness to reconnect with your family.

In your own travels, which gadgets, accessories, or other accoutrements do you consider essential?

Well, I’m a heavy packer. I bring everything. My next purchase is a smaller Nespresso machine that I will travel with (the Pixie, and you can buy the travel case). I love my coffee and too many hotels don’t do coffee well. And I love downloading books onto my iPad. And I can’t live without my iPhone, especially when on the road. Helps me stay connected. I love my tiny HD video camera as well. It fits in my pocket and cuts outstanding quality movies.

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