It’s not an easy balance to strike for a travel agent. A loyal client questions whether they should keep their reservation for a vacation to an island they heard was devastated by a hurricane.
The agent has been in touch with the tourism authority and other local contacts, and has a more accurate grasp on how satisfying a vacation can be there. So, the agent forwards links to webcams at the resort, recent photos on social media, and reviews from other travelers, since the weather event.
Many times, agents and others report these confidence-building conversations are the reason why travelers do not cancel their reservations, leading to a momentum that helps the island rally while providing memorable vacations to customers.
During its recent Best of the Best conference in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Travel Impressions officials spoke about how Caribbean destinations are recovering faster from Hurricanes Maria and Irma because travel agents are educating consumers, and convincing them to maintain bookings on islands that have not been impacted.
“What suppliers are telling us is in certain situations, they see the channel coming from the agency community has fewer cancellations,” said Travel Impressions President Scott Wiseman. While Wiseman said his conclusions were based on conversations and anecdotal evidence, “we believe strongly that agents are helping stem cancellations versus the consumer direct channel.”
Parris Jordan, chairman of the Caribbean Hotel Investment Conference & Operations Summit (CHICOS), held earlier in November, said several attendees and tourism board executives confirmed what Wiseman had experienced.
Travelers need agents to help decipher the news
“It’s a little bit challenging for the typical traveler to differentiate between different islands. There are a lot of folks who mistake Barbuda for Bermuda. And Bermuda said it was getting cancellations because of the confusion.
Having that push from the travel agencies, the people interacting with the destinations, definitely helps,” Jordan said. “Those properties interacting with travel agents recover quicker because agents react to the canceling or shifting.”
“Destinations should use agents as their primary source to ensure that there are no unnecessary cancellations due to misinformation about conditions. Our clients have utmost confidence in the agent's ability to steer them to the right spot,” said Loesken Vanderpoel, an agent with Protravel in Chicago who specializes in the Caribbean.
“When you drill right down to it, that is what sets us apart from other channels,” said Deborah Director, luxury travel advisor for her own SmartFlyer travel agency in Boca Raton, Florida. Following the fires in the Northern California wine country region, “I was getting clients asking me, 'Is it safe to go to Napa? Are they ready to receive us?'”
Visit, take photos, and post on social media
Director recently decided to tack on a side trip to the region following a personal trip to Southern California so that she could experience the damage and, importantly, the venues that were not damaged, for herself. “There is nothing like first-hand experience,” she said.
Prior to and after her trip, Director has been able to assuage clients that the region is ready to host them and that they can set high expectations for the quality of their experience.
Agents help clients overcome the fact that “Dominica isn’t the Dominican Republic,” said Jason Naito, senior director of product for Mexico, Central and South America at Apple Leisure Group, the parent company of Travel Impressions.
“Bookings were impacted by that misunderstanding. That was a challenge for us” following the hurricanes, Naito said. “Travel agents were able to save bookings.”
Naito advised agents traveling to the Caribbean to take pictures and post them on their social media feeds. “I’m going to Mexico myself soon. I will Instagram me on the beach, giving confidence to the brides worried about the resorts, that everything is fine.”
Director posted multiple times on her Facebook and Instagram feeds during her Napa/Sonoma trip in November.
“In the absence of being able to go there, a well-networked travel advisor has the communication skills to get the people on-site to provide the photos and videos we need to educate our clients,” Director advised.