Travel advisors have seen their job descriptions change since the pandemic started in early 2020. Part of that added responsibility is now being able to pivot at a moment’s notice as COVID, and the variants that come with it, continue to wreak havoc with even the best of plans.
During Virtuoso Travel Week (VTW) this week in Las Vegas, some advisors shared their advice on how to deal with an increasingly unpredictable world, including how they are communicating with clients, and what they are doing to guarantee that clients who are desperately anxious and pent-up since 2020 have the vacation they want.
For some of the advisors, trip-stacking allows them to almost guarantee that their clients are going to travel to one of two destinations during their target vacation dates, though with the Delta variant now impacting travel, even that could change.
What it does is it gives them a greater opportunity to go to one of two places that are on their bucket list. It also gives advisors the chance to make two bookings, though there might be a little extra work in re-scheduling the second trip.
“It’s how we hedge our bets,” said Joshua Bush, the owner of the Philadelphia-based agency Avenue Two Travel. For Bush, the move is part of the agency’s larger strategy to pivot during the pandemic and one that lends itself to the increasingly flexible cancellation policies that have come out of the pandemic.
“We will book multiple trips at a time because there are flexible cancellation policies out there,” he said. “This guarantees that they are able to do something and helps build a pipeline for us.”
How it works is that the advisor will book two trips for their client, for instance, a Silversea Cruise and a Hawaii land vacation for the same period. The cruise could have a 30-day cancellation policy while the land vacation could have a 7-day policy. If the possibility of one trip decreases because of COVID or because of some other event, the advisor is able to cancel one and push the other.
It comes down to “changing the dates and making sure they have something going forward,” Bush said, and lets them get “things that we know that we can actually finish.”
Gary Johnson, the owner of Seattle’s Woodside Travel, said that his agency has been doing the same thing for some time now.
“I’ve been doing the double bookings for about a year, especially with Fiji,” he said.
For Johnson, communication with clients is key with or without the trip-stacking method.
“With the Delta variant, we keep in touch with our clients all the time. I think it is just reaching out to them and explaining what they know about the destination,” whether that’s testing protocols, rising COVID cases, closures or curfews at the destination, border restrictions, or anything else that may impact the trip.
It’s not about making the decision for the client, it is about keeping track of the information and providing them with the most up-to-date information they need to make their own decisions. It’s extra work for advisors but it also shows the client just how valuable working with a travel advisor is.
“People call us wanting to go to Canada and they want to know then the border open, they want to go Hawaii and want to navigate the testing requirements. We’re finding a lot of new clients coming that way and looking for help because they’ve given up doing it themselves,” Johnson said.
“I totally, completely agree that using a travel advisor now more than ever is probably the most valuable thing to do,” Erina Pindar, an advisor with Smartflyer said. “The one thing that is most predictable about life and travel these days is its unpredictability.”
While that unpredictability has altered the ways advisors work, including the trip-stacking method, it’s also changed how clients behaved. All advisors speaking at VTW said that booking windows are more compressed than ever simply because a trip booked in a shorter window will have less unpredictability than one in a medium-term or longer-term window.
“We’re booking trips to destinations that are currently open,” Pindar added. “We only know what we know and we can only advise on the information that’s available to us now.”
Pindar said she doesn’t necessarily book multiple trips at the same time for her clients, but she will make sure that there are possible backup plans for clients who have plans altered by COVID but are still keen on traveling.
She’s also seeing clients take longer trips, “they are larger than ever and longer than ever,” she said of her bookings.
“We are seeing bookings to Europe these days that are a month-long or a month and a half long,” she said, adding that the new hybrid work environment allows her clients to work from anywhere as long as there is WiFi.
Bush said that this agency is seeing that "nice big increase" in average stay across the board--in 2019 the agency had clients stay at hotels for an average of 2.9 nights while now, in 2021, that number has increased to 4.3 nights, including a lot of clients who are looking for those month-long stays.