Today we were able to sit down and chat with Jim Byers, American by birth, but has called Canada home for the last three decades. Holding prestigious titles in the journalism world, as such as Travel Editor at the Toronto Star and now Editor at Canadian Travel News and Travel Pulse Canada, Jim has been writing about the world of travel his entire career. Enjoy this chat with a legendary travel writer (and be sure to add some of his destinations to your list!).
As a long-time travel writer, what can you share about your experiences – how you got started to now being the Editor of Travel Pulse Canada?
I started writing travel stories maybe 20 years ago when I was working in the sports department at the Toronto Star, where I worked for 32 years. I became the paper’s Travel Editor in 2008 and was there for five years before I quit to go freelance. There wasn’t much of a budget at the paper when I left and I couldn’t hire many freelancers, so I had to use Associated Press or New York Times stories and I didn’t like doing that in a Canadian newspaper, so I left. I’ve written for many publications since leaving the Star, including National Geographic, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail in Canada, The Chicago Tribune, AARP magazine, and many others. I joined TravelPulse Canada three years ago. Earlier this year, we started Canadian Travel News, a website that provides news for Canadian travellers.
How have you seen the industry change?
It’s changed quite a lot, the pandemic notwithstanding. Newspapers have pretty much (sadly) abandoned their travel sections. At the Star, when I was travel editor we had two STAND-ALONE travel sections every week because we had the ad sales for it. Now there’s not even one section by itself in a week; just a handful of wire stories or stories provided by freelancers at no cost. So that aspect of the business has changed. We’ve also seen a rebound in travel agents and a greater appreciation for the services they provide. Eco-tourism has become a bigger thing, as folks want to give back a little when they travel. They also want more local travel experiences; mixing in with local residents. That’s a definite trend. Of course, social media has become even bigger now with Instagram and now Tik Toko videos as well.
Do you have a favourite corner of the globe that you can share with our readers?
I grew up in California and we used to take vacations to Hawaii every other year. It’s still my favourite place in the world; exotic yet familiar. I love the beaches and the scenery and the food, but I also love the warm Hawaiian people. I love how aloha means not just hello or goodbye but love. And I love the Hawaiian word ohana, which means not just family but anyone close to you that you cherish and honour. Those are great words to embrace in one’s life. Most of our trips have been to Maui, which I love, and Kauai. But I’ve grown VERY fond of Molokai, which has one hotel, a couple of condos and no stoplights. It’s the Hawaii you might have found had you flown to Maui in 1960. I also love Tahiti, especially Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea and the quiet, southern part of the main island of Tahiti, which is called Tahiti Nui. And I love the Caribbean, especially the smaller islands people don’t get to as often: Dominica, Mayreau, Bequia, Nevis and others. But I pretty much like all of them. Of course, there’s Europe and Australia and New Zealand.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Doing the same thing! I can’t see myself retiring. Maybe writing a bit less as I get older but probably not much. Travel writing is my passion and my job and my hobby all at once. It’s so varied, which is why I love it. I remember being the travel editor at the Star and a friend of mine who was a very serious political and business reporter for years asked me if I wasn’t bored writing about travel. I looked at him like he was nuts. “So,” I said, “you’re asking me if I get bored writing about the Louvre and kiteboarding in Mexico and the history of Hawaii and wine-tasting in Bordeaux and jerk chicken in Jamaica and architecture in New York and….” I think he kinda nodded and walked away. I mean, how on earth could ANYONE be bored writing about travel? Writing about travel is writing about the world and its people. What could be better than that?
What’s next on your bucket list?
First up is a flight back to the Bay Area in California to see my dad, sister, my niece and her husband. It’s been almost a year, and I’ve never been away from them that long. That hurts a lot. In terms of new places? I’ve only been to Scotland once and that was 40 years ago, so that’s on my list. Also, Western Australia, where you can swim and enjoy coral reefs that are only a few yards offshore and also explore wonderful outback-like nature and check out cities and go wine-tasting. The entire Australia experience (well, not really, but a lot of it) in one state. Also, Tasmania, southern New Zealand and, TOP OF THE LIST, the Marquesas Islands, which are part of Tahiti and look absolutely stunning.
How do you think travel will be affected by COVID in future?
Hoo, boy. How much time do you have? I don’t know that business travel will ever recover to 2019 levels. Maybe in 10 years, the actual number of business trips will eclipse 2019 numbers, but in terms of the percentage of business people travelling it may not ever get back to prior levels. Why send an exec halfway around the world in business class for $5,000 when you can Zoom for free? A lot of things are better done in person, but a lot can be accomplished on the Internet and it saves time and money and keeps employees safe. Cruising will take a while to rebound but I suspect will get back to prior levels in four or five years. Family travel will be big as families (like mine) have been apart. I can see a lot of folks renting a villa and celebrating being together with family members spread around North America and around the world. Nature trips will be big. Probably yachting is a great thing for the future as you can be pretty much isolated and go where you like. I did a story for AARP in April about the popularity of RV’s. A private yacht or boat has much the same appeal but on water.