Say one thing for the year-long pandemic, it has allowed travel advisors to take a good look at how they work. Many say that when travel fully resumes, they will be doing business much differently.
“We’ve all learned so much,” said Laney Sachs of Ortensia Blu Travel Adventures in Stamford, CT.
Some changes stem from a heightened awareness that life is just too short, so why not do work you love. “If I have to manage and re-manage reservations, it should be something I enjoy,” said Lisa Phillips of Simply Travel in Shakopee, MN. From now on, she plans to focus on travel that excites her and delegate the rest.
Similarly, some advisors say they’ve been emboldened to turn away toxic clients and unprofitable bookings.
“I’m absolutely firing some of my guests because of the way they treated me,” said Shari Marsh of Cruise Holidays in Raleigh, N.C. Marsh also intends to maintain a healthier work-life balance, including by being “more client-selective” and declining to book low-end vacations.
Many advisors have discovered, or rediscovered, the value of reaching out to their peers, including direct competitors, to share experiences, learn from one another, and get support. “I’m hoping we will be more open [post-pandemic]. Sometimes a different view can change everything,” said Anita Bornemann, owner of Professional Travel Service, Inc., in Kirkland, WA.
Here’s a look at six other ways the pandemic has caused advisors to change things up for the better.
1. Taking a fresh look at suppliers
Experiences positive and negative have prompted advisors to reassess supplier partnerships.
“Now more than ever I will do my best to support preferred suppliers only – suppliers that supported travelers and travel advisors with flexible policies,” Phillips said.
Conversely, Marsh said that “as a result of the pandemic there are definitely suppliers I will not support in the future, as they certainly did not treat my guests fairly – let alone me. I will tell my clients they offer a great product but lousy customer service.”
Sachs said she’ll cut ties with those suppliers who have been uncommunicative during the pandemic. “If there are partners I haven’t heard from throughout this thing, I’m probably not going to look in their direction. And some that I didn’t work with before have been really good – for sure, I’m going to work with them next time.”
2. Refining operations
Sachs has taken advantage of the downtime to streamline her workflow by creating policies and procedures. “Before this, it was just reacting – do this, do this, do this.”
She’s created a step-by-step process for working with clients, and she’s started using the scheduling tool Calendly to arrange client meetings, saving her from the endless time-suck of back-and-forth emails. She also hired an attorney to re-do her terms and conditions and create electronic forms for clients to sign.
3. Smarter about fees
After spending countless hours booking and rebooking travel in the past year – without seeing a dime in remuneration – many advisors have vowed never again to give away their services.
Power Travel in Plainview, NY, now requires that new clients agree in writing to pay nonrefundable deposits ranging from $100 to $250. “We’re trying to protect ourselves,” said president Matilde Broder. The luxury agency also has introduced fees of $25 to $40 for air travel bookings in conjunction with land packages.
Power Travel plans to keep both fees in place after travel is fully recovered. “We used to be a free service. Now there is no free service,” Broder said emphatically.
At Professional Travel, advisors finally are consistent about assessing a planning fee of $250 and up. “The one good thing to come out of 2020 was that. Everybody’s more serious about it. This isn’t fun times. It’s a career. This is a business,” Bornemann said.
4. Staying attuned to the marketplace
The pandemic has made it clear that business-savvy advisors need to be “sensitive to everything that’s going on, to understand the marketplace,” said Gary Pollard, CTC, president and CEO of Ambassador Tours in San Francisco.
“You have to understand when clients buy, what’s the psyche behind buying or not buying, what’s going on in the world, in the news. If they’re not buying, what are the factors creating hesitation? What are the factors making them want to go?”
Her perception of the depths of consumer wariness around travel has convinced Disney specialist Meredith McCutcheon that her marketing will need to convey a message of safety and security for many years to come. “I feel like even after the risk level is objectively minimum, people are still going to be worried,” said McCutcheon, whose Rochester, MI, agency is called Magic Minus the Mayhem.
McCutcheon expects that for the foreseeable future much of her marketing will focus on “assuring people that, when done right, it’s safe to travel, and here’s why. Some will include suppliers’ mitigation efforts, so people not only feel safe and secure but know what to expect.”
5. More creative in marketing
Like many travel agencies, Ambassador Tours has embraced virtual client events and meetings during the pandemic. “It’s caused us to be more creative, in that there are new ways to get marketing out there,” said Pollard, who had to overcome his reluctance to connecting virtually. “It’s forced our hand,” he said.
Now Pollard has embraced the virtual world and he expects to keep hosting virtual events even after in-person gatherings feel safe again. “We’re finding that if you’re creative in what you’re doing, people are buying in.” What’s more, he said, customers attending Zoom events tend to be more relaxed, more engaged, and more likely to ask questions than at the in-person events he used to host at local restaurants.
Another plus he’s found is that suppliers are willing, even eager, to invest in virtual events because they’re not as expensive. Also, virtual events allow Ambassador Tours to connect with its global clientele in new ways.
6. Ensuring survivability
The pandemic experience no doubt has driven home to travel advisors the necessity of having a rainy day fund on hand, as well as a plan for weathering business turndowns.
“We all should be thinking about, do I have the means to maintain myself if something like this happens again or gets stretched out? You have to look at, what do I need to do for survivability. That to me is one of the most important things that’s got to come out of this, post-pandemic,” Pollard said.
In a volatile world, a flexible mindset is also key. “We’ve learned that you’ve got to have the gumption to try something different and get out of the same old, same old,” Pollard said. “If you can’t adapt, you shouldn’t be in this business.”