Earlier in the pandemic, Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV) launched its Walking on Sunshine Campaign. It sought to help advisors market vacations in a new world, including with videos that highlight different health and safety protocols, to drive home the fact that, despite COVID-19, it can be safe to travel.
Now, as the calendar turns deeper into 2021, ALGV is launching the second part of the campaign, “Walking on Sunshine – Crisis Recovery & The Next Step.” As part of the initiative, ALGV this week completed a Super FAM with a select panel of travel advisors at the Dreams Natura Resort & Spa in Cancun.
The FAM, which highlighted how safe travel is when you choose the right supplier, also gave advisors some face-to-face time with ALGV executives.
Four of those executives—Ray Snisky, the group president at ALGVacations; Jacki Marks, ALG’s executive vice president; Rodrigo Llaguno, the group president at Unlimited Vacation Club and Amstar; and Mary Ellen Burke, the national director of sales for AMResorts—joined TMR's Publisher Anne Marie Moebes to talk about how the company has responded to the pandemic.
Here are just some of the highlights from the panel:
‘Year of the Travel Advisor’
ALGV recently launched its latest promotion, called Year of the Travel Advisor (YOTA), but the panel on Wednesday provided some evidence that the theme is bigger than just ALG.
“We are seeing from our research and data that more consumers are wanting to use a travel advisor to book their vacation,” Marks said.
According to a survey of unbiased consumers from across the country, as the pandemic has progressed, more consumers only feel confident booking through the trade. In September, that number was 75%, followed by 95% in October, and then 97% in November.
“We expected that kind of resurgence for advisors but not to that degree,” Marks said.
Impact of the new COVID-19 requirement
When the U.S. announced that all inbound international travelers would have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in January, there was worry that it could have disastrous consequences for international leisure travel.
“I was really concerned,” Snisky said. “You heard stats that up to 40% of people infected are asymptomatic.” However, actual data from ALGV’s clients has helped level any worries.
“I can tell you that out of the first 30,000 people we had travel, 30 tested positive, and 5 of those were false positives who were able to travel after another test. So we are at a .007% of our experience. I can’t tell you how pleased I am,” he added.
According to Snisky, that success is due largely to the protocols that suppliers have put in place at resorts and destinations. “That’s just another testament to our suppliers,” he said. “We haven’t had any experience with people trying to cut corners.”
ALGV has made it easy for its advisors to identify which suppliers are offering what in terms of onsite antigen testing or health and safety protocols and new functionality in its VAX system will allow advisors to filter results based on those criteria. There’s also a checkmark and emblem for Trip Trust properties, which Snisky said “was a big help for agents.”
Convenience is also of the utmost importance for consumers, too. “Testing is conducted with a medical group that is located three minutes from the lobby,” Burke said. “It’s just a three-minute walk to have my test within minutes, and I can go back enjoy the resort.”
“We’re very proud because our program has certification through one of the highest industry standards. It’s one of the highest certifications that you can achieve in the industry,” she added. If someone does test positive, some AMResorts offer a complimentary 14-day stay on property.
A leisure renaissance
The majority of the money that suppliers have made over the last decade or so has been in business travel, a traditionally more lucrative segment for airlines and hotels. But that could be changing.
“I think we are going to be leaning in on leisure while the business travel recovery is slower,” Snisky said. “Our value proposition I think is much higher today than even at any point previously.”
Mostly, that means advisors, and their customers, are going to be more important for suppliers.
“What’s going to be exciting is the people of the industry will never appreciate the customer more than they do now,” Snisky said. “There’s an extra level now that people can see and appreciate.”
Aside from the consumer shift toward advisors, ALGV’s data has also shown a shift in the kind of destinations they book.
According to Snisky, the percentage of bookings to five-star, all-inclusive resorts is at an all-time high for the company. There has also been a movement among guests to add an excursion to their trips, which generates new opportunities for advisors.
“Seventy-five percent of people now attach an excursion to their bookings, and advisors now have the opportunity to help them do that before they even get to a destination,” Marks said.
Even advisors who aren’t able to get a client to book an excursion ahead of time can make commission on the trend by selling Amstar gift cards, which can be used by clients at the destination.
While before the pandemic, there would be little discussion on calls about rebooking or cancellation policies, policies are now the name of the game for consumers.
“How many times did customers actually put policy first? It didn’t happen,” Marks said. “We shifted focus on making sure that the un-sexy stuff, the policies, and process, were simplified and readily available for advisors.”
Part of that was moving to the 125% future travel credit offer for rebookings, which continues to be in place for ALGV. That has helped ALGV keep 40% of all bookings during the pandemic.
Another common change in consumer behavior is a smaller booking window.
“We had customers, thousands of customers, booking on December 22nd, 23rd, and 24th to go spend Christmas somewhere else. The booking window has definitely changed. I have never seen anything like that,” Snisky said.