As the travel industry continues to try and overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, advisors have begun preparing themselves and their businesses to be in a good position when the industry starts to recover next year.
Over the last six months the global travel landscape has changed drastically, along with the mindsets and expectations of travelers. TMR asked advisors what they were doing to prepare their business for the post-COVID-19 world, where consumer confidence and travel demand are expected to return to a new normal.
Choosing a specialization
“Now people are using the term pivoting when talking about adapting their travel business… But I believe this is the time for travel advisors to really look inside themselves and see where their passion is in the travel industry,” said Susan Rice, president of New Era Travel.
Rice believes advisor specializations will become much important going forward, as travelers reconsider their plans, they will want to work with an advisor that is an expert on the specific type of experience they’re looking for.
“I think the travel industry is going to become much more individualistic, meaning what may be good for one client, may not be good for another,” said Rice.
She believes that promoting your specialty will help attract potential travelers and instill additional confidence in their abilities, because travelers will be looking for more personalized catered experiences and will trust an advisor who can provide their specific needs and who operate under that title.
“Whether it be culinary, adventure, or romance travel, work where your heart is, because now they have the time to focus on where their passion is.”
Updating terms and conditions
One thing advisors should consider is updating their terms and conditions to more clearly lay out cancellation and rebooking policies for clients, as well as to protect your agency from liability.
“When you’re going to book somebody during COVID, you have to make sure you have a set of terms and conditions that spell out the risks and protect you from liability,” said Toni Lanotte-Day, owner of Toni Tours Inc.
“Make sure you tell the clients you’re not responsible if they’re taking the risk, you refer them to the CDC, you make sure they know about any government restrictions on travel policies, but ultimately the decision is theirs.”
“What’s true today, may not be true tomorrow. And you have to protect yourself.”
The best way to protect yourself and your agency from being financially liable for a chargeback or debit memo, is to be clear and upfront with your clients about your terms and conditions.
Staying connected will be pivotal
Communication with clients has always been an important element of the travel planning experience, but it’s become even more essential to stay connected to your clients that ever before.
“We need to be reaching out to our clients to make sure they’re okay, and just to let them know we’re here if they need us, for travel or anything else,” said Rice.
Listening has become more important as well, as the desires and expectation of travelers continue to change.
“Their client’s mindsets have definitely changed maybe not completely, but they’re looking at travel as a very different experience. And before advisors plan travel for their clients, they need to find out where their mindset is.”
In order to combat the sense of uncertainty about the ever-changing state of travel, advisors should do everything in their power to research and relay up-to-date information about the situation across the destinations they offer.
“We’ve become really big on the word transparent, and I think having learned from my other colleagues that the more clear and honest you are with clients, the better they will respect you, and your relationship will grow from that,” said Rice.
“We also want to keep giving them more opportunities to show what new things we can do for them. Who would’ve known we’d be asked to rent people RV’s or homes that are not near anyone, or apartments with whole blocks emptied?”
“This is all new for us, [and] I think [advisors] need to shift their thought process, how they work with people, and maybe learn to listen better. A lot of what will happen in 2021 will be a learning experience for all of us, and how the new travel will be evolving. “
Take stock of your business strategy and finances
This is also a good time for advisors and agency owners to step back and take stock of their financial situation. Many agencies have undergone significant structural changes just to stay afloat, but with travel projected to bounce back in the next year, updating your business strategy and going over your finances could really help in the long run.
“A lot of advisors have been able to get the financial assistance they need to keep them afloat, so they can cover their overhead and pay their bills. Because even if you’re not selling travel, if you’re a storefront, you’ve still have to pay that rent every month,” said Lanotte-Day.
“Even if you’re home-based, you still have to pay for the software, GDS access, my host agency … there are still a lot of fees we have to pay. People should go back and talk to their accountants about how they should file their taxes. If they got a loss this year, it might offset their earnings they got last year so perhaps they can get a bigger refund check next year. These are things everybody needs to think about.”
She also recommended advisors invest in a client database to help grow their business when bookings are expected to return next year.
“If you’ve not already invested in a database of your clients, now is the perfect time to set it up. So that as new clients come in, you can enter that information and that will really help you grow your business when the time comes.”
“Once a vaccine is available, I think people are going to start really booking for the future, maybe six months to a year out, so you need to be ready. We’ve weathered storms before and we’ll weather this one too, and come out stronger on the other side.”