The current Coronavirus (now named COVID-19) emergency continues to impact travel. With the outbreak still growing, travel businesses must respond to the needs of current travelers as well as help clients make informed travel decisions moving forward.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has issued a reminder of best practices for travel advisors that will provide them and their clients the most certainty and best protections during this uncertain travel environment.
In addition, the organization is reminding advisors of their responsibilities for “duty of care”, and their legal requirement to comply with regulations in their jurisdictions (for example, travel businesses are regulated in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia). This is an important time for advisors to ensure they are fully compliant with their regulatory obligations.
ACTA has recommended best practices for travel advisors:
1. Get Payment by Credit Card
Encourage clients to always use a credit card for booking, urges ACTA, as it may offer added securities depending on their card’s Terms and Conditions.
2. Encourage the purchase of travel insurance
It’s vital - but not enough - to offer travel insurance. Advisors must sell clients the “right” travel insurance for their needs and explain how they are – and are not - covered. ACTA reminds advisors that it’s not just a best practice, but also may be a regulatory requirement. (For example, ACTA points out that in Ontario, “Travel agents are obligated to advise customers about the availability of trip cancellation insurance, and out-of-province health insurance, before accepting payment.”)
3. Make sure to be familiar with the fine print
Knowledge of the Terms and Conditions for each supplier in a client’s itinerary is vitally important for advisors and clients. Policies – particularly those concerning refunds or penalties for changes and cancellations - vary and are changing as the COVID-19 situation evolves, so it’s important for advisors to stay up to date.
4. Only reference official sources
The travel world has seen several cases recently of the damage done by misinformation. ACTA reminds advisors to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, by educating themselves only through official sources of current information, and by sharing only information from those qualified sources to clients so they can make properly informed decisions.
For any question of supplier actions, products, cancellations or changes, advisors should only rely on the supplier’s official channels, and for destination-specific travel information:
The Government of Canada’s official travel information can be found here.
The United States’ State Department advisories are published here.
And the highly respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel notices are located here.
5. Know your legal obligations
Advisors’ responsibilities vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it’s up to advisors to ensure they are compliant. ACTA provides examples of how the COVID-19 situation may intersect with an advisor’s legal responsibilities. They may include “disclosure of conditions that may impact a consumer’s decision to purchase travel services as well as advising customers of changing conditions.”
6. Document, document, document
All of the best practices in ACTA’s list apply to an advisor’s business always, not just during COVID-19. Documentation is no exception. Documenting all communications – including in-person meetings and phone conversations as well as emails - can help protect advisors against liability.
COVID-19: Advisor impact and opportunity
Many agencies are reporting similar COVID-19 impact to their business.
Michael Johnson, Executive Vice President Travel Edge says advisors, “with clients visiting Asia are pivoting in real time to create new experiences in new parts of the world. Advisors are working closely with vendor partners to get clients fair compensation or provide alternative experiences.”
And Christine James, Vice President of TL Network, reports that advisors are fielding client calls with questions about the outbreak, but they are not seeing a drastic change in the number of cancellations to destinations outside of China. Furthermore, she added: “Our travel advisors are still seeing travelers booking business trips and vacations from spring break to summer getaways and cruises for later in the year.”
While COVID-19 puts more work on advisors’ plates, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and agency executives agree, the global health emergency again highlights the vital importance of working with a travel advisor. Whether it’s providing advice about options for an upcoming trip, last minute or mid-trip changes, travel insurance coverage or the different policies of travel suppliers, a well-informed, professional travel advisor can make all the difference to a client’s travel outcomes in a COVID-19 world.