This year has been a banner year for the travel industry, one that represented a giant leap from the lows of the pandemic, and a year that left advisors scrambling amidst a much-welcomed onslaught of business in both the U.S. and Canada.
To celebrate the calendar moving closer to the holiday season, Thanksgiving in the U.S. and a late Thanksgiving in Canada, TMR asked its travel advisors reader to help us celebrate in a little different way this year. We wanted to hear about the pain that might have gone unreported during this boom year. We wanted to hear about the issues that slowed down business, that made 2023 chaotic and stressful despite the amount of success that the industry experienced.
Here are the most common answers:
The outside influences impacting travel
“I am LEAST thankful for outside events/influences that affect my client's bookings and make them cancel—like work strikes, violence in the region of travel, hurricanes, etc.”
“The fact that hatred is affecting my clients' travel experiences. Canceling tours due to terrorists and wars totally out of our control. Praying for peace.”
"The fires in Maui and the war in the Middle East. Even when things are great, it seems like the universe won't let us sail smoothly. It's always something. Things can never be too good for this industry."
In 2023 alone, the travel industry has had to deal with strikes from airport workers in Germany, Uber and Lyft drivers in the New York City area, the potential of 31 days of strikes from security officers at London’s Heathrow Airport and WestJet and Swoop pilots, and now, potential strikes from Southwest Airlines pilots and American Airlines flight attendants during the upcoming busy holiday season.
It also made it through a brutal hurricane season with 20 total storms including 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes (Category 3-plus) in the Atlantic, along with 16 total storms, 10 hurricanes, and 8 major hurricanes in the Pacific.
There are also the fires that devastated Maui and, most recently, the industry is dealing with the fallout from the escalating conflict in the Middle East, with widespread tour, flight, and cruise cancellations.
Staffing shortages and long hold times
“The staffing shortages that seem to be present in almost every single industry since the pandemic.”
“Suppliers have incredibly long wait times to respond to quote requests. Some don't even acknowledge the requests, it is up to the travel agent to follow up, and follow up again.”
“Waiting a long time to speak with an agent at a tour company or cruise line and speaking with someone who doesn’t have the experience or the knowledge of how to troubleshoot a situation and is apathetic about helping.”
“Automation and Chat Bots - It's so hard to get a consult when every res agent asks ‘Did you look on the site?’ If what I need were on the site, why would I be talking to you?”
“I am least thankful for low staffing issues with all vendors and hotels, resorts, and cruise lines. It has been a tough year for our industry but, we are coming back strong from the pandemic.”
Even if you take out the concerns with staffing with pilots, air traffic controllers, and more in the U.S., Canada, and abroad, the travel agency segment of the industry, just like other parts of travel, is facing a major talent shortage that is holding back some agencies from reaching their full potential. A recent panel at the Affluent Travel Collection (ATC) Symposium in Miami called attention to the staffing issue and went as far as to say underqualified advisors aren’t the answer.
Lack of client loyalty and attention to detail
“I spend hours researching the perfect vacation for a client give them the information and they decide to take my research and book it themselves.”
“Clients who can’t ever be bothered to read the important info we send them and then waste our time with questions we have already answered (often repeatedly). I’m not their kindergarten teacher. If only I had ten bucks for every “as outlined in the itinerary…as we discussed last month…as listed in my email of June 4th…as noted on the invoice…”
“Contacts who are full of questions and then you don't hear from them again!”
“Friends repeatedly booking on their own and saying that they didn't think it was a big deal even after you spoke to them about it.”
“Spending many, many, many hours researching a personalized trip just to have the potential clients use the information you give them, and then they book the trip themselves. To make matters worse, they call you to book just the air or rail.”
”People who use your time and knowledge, asking every question possible only to then book themselves online.”
This year, a new theme emerged among advisors, who become inundated with client requests during what is very much a boom period for the travel industry—firing clients. That is a far cry from 2020 and 2021 when advisors and agency owners were struggling with a lack of business.
Still, even though the industry is definitely in a new era, there are issues with clients who want expertise without paying or don’t give advisors the respect they deserve for the work they do.
The airlines, high airfare, and the evolution of GDS
“Airline fiascos continue to happen 2 years after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The airlines for making a mess of clients’ travels, and itineraries.”
“The airlines' attitude towards travel advisors. Lost baggage with no assistance for weeks! I have been an agent for 37 years and if I knew what this year would be like I would have quit this year.”
“The airlines and the many issues with cancellations and changes. If they just sold what they had enough staff to man, our lives would be so much easier.”
“The constant high prices for airfare.”
“Debit memos from airlines for holding passive segments in a client's reservation for schedule printing purposes. I have no way of knowing what their contracts with Sabre allow or don't and have been billed for not canceling those segments 24 hours in advance. If they are being charged by my GDS, shouldn't that be on them? This adds considerable time on reservations that I make no commission on!”
“Airline cancellations and their mismanagement wasting hours and hours of my time and messing up clients' travel plans.”
“Airline schedule changes.”
“Airlines that don't run on time, hotel front desk clerks that don't read notes in the reservation, and NDC content!”
“The airlines (the U.S. and international). The airlines are at the start and end of a vacation and they have managed to mess up A LOT! Teleportation would be a wonderful thing right now for travel.”
The airlines were the most common answer among TMR readers. A lot of that was delays, cancellations, lost bags, and other issues that caused problems for clients around the world, but a lot of advisors also cited the rollout of NDC content by some airlines this year that marked a turning point for how travel advisors worked with GDSs.
Other pains from both clients and suppliers
“Clients who refused to purchase travel insurance but still want a 100% refund of all their deposits when canceling.”
“The ‘hustle’ culture. People are encouraged to put their jobs above everything else—family, social life, wellness, personal growth, and enrichment. Many people either do not have paid time off or are actively discouraged from taking it. We are burning out our workforce and have been seeing the consequences of it in the past several years.”