Danny Almon may have officially retired from the Nova Scotia school system, but this enthusiastic former high school English, drama and film teacher has merely changed his classroom.
The nightly routine of preparing lectures for class and marking exams has given way to organizing travel presentations and researching vacation destinations. And among his “students” are eager young clients learning the ins and outs of planning nuptials in a foreign land.
Almon works “side-by-side” with his wife Debbie at AlmonTravel, a family owned business the couple started in 2003. The company offers unique and specialized trip planning, from river cruises to destination weddings.
“We’ve done some reasonably exotic things, like Egypt cruises [down the Nile] ... river tours in Europe ... ocean cruises to the Mediterranean, Alaska, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as itineraries in the Caribbean ... the gamut,” says Almon, who taught for 33 years.
The Almons also take a little bit of Nova Scotia with them wherever they go. One of their key “curriculums” is that of educating travel industry contacts about the province as they scout out new holiday locations and arrange trips for clients.
“Whenever we go away, especially if it’s a familiarization trip ... and we’re visiting resorts, we always take something from Nova Scotia ... something [made] in Nova Scotia ... and we give [these items] as gifts to the people we meet,” says Almon.
“We talk about Nova Scotia all the time,” he adds.
Marketing the province is “very, very important” to the Almons, whose own business has been built by word of mouth. In turn, they spread the word about all things Nova Scotian - history, culture, geography, destinations, and events, such as Celtic Colours.
The Almons see it as giving back. After all, they send Nova Scotians around the world, to spend their money. “We gotta replace that don’t we?” laughs Almon, who says he’s glad to be “in a position to be able to be able to do something about it.”
Besides, he chuckles, “I’m one of Nova Scotia’s biggest fans.”
Recently, Almon convinced a U.S. business associate to buy tickets to next year’s Tattoo (where Debbie Almon performs Scottish country dancing). “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Almon recalls his contact saying, “I’ve been wanting to go to the tattoo in Edinburgh for years and didn’t realize you had one in Nova Scotia.”
Among the biggest perks of the Almon’s business are the scouting trips they take to learn about new destinations and make recommendations. “Every trip we take has a significant business aspect to it,” says Almon, “we try to choose our trips so that we’re going some place new every time and [we] try to experience the area so we can talk knowledgably, from experience, to clients.”
Small ship cruises (300 passengers or less) are one of AlmonTravel’s specialties. The company is certified by one of many highly regarded, professional small and niche cruise associations.
“River cruising is the way to go,” exclaims Almon, who says the couple’s first river cruise, from Budapest to Amsterdam, was one of their most spectacular trips ever.
River cruises - available throughout Canada, Europe, China, Egypt, and the U.S. - are a relaxing alternative to bus tours. Like a floating hotel, river cruises allow sightseers to unpack once, relax in comfort, freely move about, and watch the scenery, while visiting popular cities along the way.
The cruises follow some of the most interesting and oldest routes, as rivers were once the super highways between cities. Plus, Almon adds, river cruises serve up first-rate meals and expeditions are included in the package price.
Lately, however, destination weddings are taking most of the couple’s time. AlmonTravel works with young couples from across Canada, educating them about getting married abroad, setting up locations (usually resorts), and arranging air travel packages for families and friends - who are often scattered throughout the world.
One of the more interesting offerings is a Mayan wedding, with traditional Mayan vows. Another recent trend is called “trashing the wedding gown,” where the bride basically jumps into the water after the ceremony. Almon says he’s seen couples photographed lying on a beach in full wedding attire as the waves crash over them.
Almon averages 50 to 70 hours of work per week - not unlike his teaching years - and has parsed through thousands of emails. The company has successfully completed 20 destination weddings so far, and is arranging 10 to 12 more this year. “We’ve gotten to know the Canadian market very, very well,” he laughs.
“Nothing has prepared me for the real world of small business,” says Almon, who ironically taught career and life management. Balance is key, he adds. But he says he’s as enthusiastic about the business as he was during his teaching years.
Really, Almon hasn’t stopped teaching. “I don’t think teaching escapes any day of my life,” he says, “whether it’s talking to wedding couples about what they have to know about getting married abroad” - or telling travelers about the history and culture of places they’re about to visit.
In the end, the Almon’s favourite destination is Nova Scotia. “I’m proud of our province,” smiles Almon, “and I take every opportunity I can to promote Nova Scotia.”