Aside from waiting for restrictions to be removed, the biggest issue for the travel industry right now is restoring traveler confidence. That’s according a panel of Apple Leisure Group (ALG) Representatives, who spoke on a panel on Wednesday as part of its Virtual Ascend Conference.
“From a risk POV, the biggest issue that we have right now is restoring travelers’ confidence and also removing barriers for people to travel,” CEO Alejandro Reynal said. “There is still a lot of uncertainty in the market.”
Reyna told attendees that ALG is currently working with governments and airlines to make sure that “we provide a seamless end-to-end experience that is also safe.”
“I’m encouraged based on what I’ve seen. We at ALG at working hand in hand with all the stakeholders in the industry making sure that at the end of the day we are able to restore the travel confidence,” he said.
Hold times and other moves
Anderson Hernandez, senior vice president of contact centers and operations, told attendees that “we have come a long way during COVID as we have dealt with many challenges.”
Among the challenges is high hold times for its advisor partners, something ALG continues to deal with. According to Hernandez, those hold times were caused by two factors—higher call volumes and long conversation time. Hernandez said that while things have improved over the past four weeks, ALG is continuing to make moves to get it even better.
“We extended our team members hours and have our support staff trainers/supervisors on phones helping at peak times” he said, adding that ALG is ramping up new hires to be ready to start taking calls soon.
ALG also consolidated its email boxes into one management system and has plans in the works to start using a chat bot on its advisor website
“We understand it all starts in the contact center…it’s our priority to not only answer phones within 20 minutes, but make sure everyone is trained and capable,” he said.
Apple Leisure Group, like all other travel suppliers, had to make decisions quickly as COVID-19 started to take hold.
“When COVID hit, there was an opportunity to respond or react. We really feel that we responded not just react,” executive vice president Jackie Marks said. “We were able to do things, create the change, and really respond to what was happening.”
ALG made the decision to offer 125% future travel credits “right away,” Marks said, adding that the goal behind that was to get consumers to hang on to their bookings and create some stability both for ALG and for advisors.
ALG also continued its policy of no revision fees, and, when COVID hit, eliminated change fees, a policy that has now been extended for bookings through 2021.
Addressing commission and final payment policies, Marks said “this is a tough one because for years we understood agent’s desire to have that payment sooner” and that “It’s never off the table for us to do something if agents say it’s really needed.”
However, paying commission up front proved to be difficult with waves of cancellations. “There are also a lot of administrative work for that – customers are changing their vacation frequently so the more times we have to issue commission and retract commission…the time is not right for that right now.”
Talking the 3% VAX fee, something that is not connected to COVID, Marks said that the fee is exclusively used to improve ALG technology and “is something that we have needed in order to keep that investment going. It’s minimal but it pays off big for all of us…we can invest in technology.”
Consortia and groups
“I think this year is no different than any other year – we go into contract season with consortia with the same goal – we are looking for a win-win,” Scott Wiseman, SVP and general manager of brand management, said.
“One thing that remains true even through the pandemic we did remain really engaged with the consortia.”
Talking groups, including turnaround time and cancellations, group president Ray Snisky said that COVID provided unique challenges. Overall, 3200 groups cancelled and with that 60,000 individual bookings, which provided a lot of work for ALG to process. We are working booking by booking within that group.
Apple has refitted its team to help with that process—its current group’s team includes 90-plus members.
“We are all excited to get back to doing our day jobs and doing the thing we love. We are very much looking forward to the future and just seeing some of the more recent trends is giving us a lot of hope for where we are headed,” he said.