It was supposed to be about dispelling common myths about travel styles that advisors may encounter when consulting with clients. But in the last couple of weeks, it’s become clear that misperceptions of coach tours and river cruises aren’t the only barriers to bookings that advisors are facing today.
At a breakfast with Canadian travel media in the pre-opening hours at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Stephanie Bishop, Globus Family of Brands’ managing director for Canada, and Chris Jones, Globus Family of Brands’ director of marketing in Canada, addressed head-on the company’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re absolutely getting phone calls,” acknowledged Bishop. “But what’s really important is that calm prevails. The bottom line is that we have over 90 years of experience with logistics and working through unexpected scenarios. Not to minimize at all the importance of what is happening right now with COVID-19, but as an organization, we’ve been here before. We’ve been through 9/11, through SARS, through water level issues and natural disasters … What we’ve learned over many years is that we need a flexible approach and we need to continuously evolve policies to address changing situations.”
Timing, responsiveness, and availability
Bishop admitted: “We were all taken aback last week about Italy (becoming a center for COVID-19). It’s the backbone of our business. Luckily, now it’s low season for Italy – and all of Europe. But we don't know how this will roll out, or what the timeline looks like.”
Asked about the Avalon river cruise side of the business with its Mekong itineraries that sail through several affected Southeast Asian countries, Bishop pointed out: “These can be lifelong dream vacations for advisors’ clients, and we do our best to make them work. Our goal is to find a way to accommodate so guests don’t have to cancel their vacations. But we are also dependent on airline policies. Some Avalon guests have elected to cancel or to change dates.”
And she echoed other industry experts’ and executives’ reminders to advisors and top advice to travelers: “That’s why travel insurance exists.”
From the Globus Family of Brands’ perspective, Bishop explained: “The safety and security of our guests is our number one concern at all times. I am confident our company is doing the right things and taking the right steps – at the right times.”
No one has a crystal ball as a guide to meet the challenges of COVID-19. And as Bishop pointed out, “When there’s a world crisis, travel is usually the first business to be impacted – and usually also the first to be responsive.”
She continued, “What we have learned over many years as a travel organization is that we can’t paint every new crisis with the same brush. That’s our real strength – the backend logistics that allow us to respond and evolve.”
And, not just on the ground. The company has also taken steps to support advisors and be even more accessible as advisors field calls and serve their customers. GFoB is making sure its nine Canadian BDMs are “out there front and center available to agents.”
And in contrast to advisor reports of trying to reach other suppliers and being “on hold for an hour,” Bishop vowed: “You can get to us. We pick up the phone in record time. We’ll get through this, and we will work with advisors to help navigate these times.”
Travel style myths that are barriers to bookings
Outside of travelers’ concerns about booking new trips because of COVID-19, the Globus Family of Brands has identified misperceptions held by many travelers about certain types of travel products.
Recognizing that advisors find themselves confronted with all kinds of misunderstandings when consulting with their clients, Bishop and Jones shifted into the role of mythbusters, listing their favorites.
1. River cruising is for old people.
“This is my favorite myth, because it’s more and more true that no one can be pigeonholed,” said Stephanie Bishop, “Travel today is nothing about age. It’s about the experiences people are looking for in their own journey. It’s so personal.”
Avalon Choice, GFoB’s answer to personalizing the river cruise experience, allows guests to choose among three options of shore excursion style in every port of call. Classic style still includes “classical music and statues,” but Active and Discovery styles open up the playbook for guests of all interests and abilities – and ages.
Examples of excursions on dedicated sailings on the Rhone, Rhine and Danube include: Cave hiking in France with wine tasting; a guided tour with an author in Budapest; and even a canoe exploration of the Danube.
2. Coach touring is just about following around someone with a little flag.
“That’s a very old perception,” laughed Chris Jones. “We are so much more than big groups following little flags around cathedrals.”
When the tours do involve cathedrals and major tourist attractions, the group is traveling in a premium coach with all-important WiFi; and the company’s access provides “VIP line bypass,” a benefit anyone who’s ever stood in a line to get into a coveted attraction appreciates.
Jones cited GFoB’s innovations supporting a coach touring “revival.” They include responding to Canadian travelers’ quest for authenticity. “Our Undiscovered series with Globus and Cosmos takes guest to places in the Med outside the big cities, where we’re the only ones there.”
3. Authenticity is just a buzzword.
In addition to the Undiscovered series, Escapes by Globus (where guests have the opportunity to travel off-season and avoid crowds), the company’s private touring option, and the “Local Favorites” on each tour, all feed modern travelers’ appetite for genuinely authentic local experience. Not to mention the company’s Monograms brand, where you travel on your own, choose your hotel, and make your own discoveries, but have logistics and planning taken care of, and a local host’s expertise and advice to rely on.
The quest for authenticity is also supported by the company’s new technology. That may seem counterintuitive, but as Bishop pointed out: “People travel connected. And they’ll do so even more.”
So, GFoB’s technology rollouts marry connectivity with the quest for personalization and authenticity. The Globus and Cosmos GO Apps allow guests to explore during their free time with maps and GPS capabilities so they can roam and enjoy on their own without the need to pay for data or WiFi. And the company’s Whisper technology keeps guests in communication with a guide, but not tethered to that “little flag.”
“It’s a game changer,” said Bishop.
A strong season
Heading towards what Bishop and Jones – and travel advisors – hope will be a strong Europe season, Jones acknowledges how much of the heavy lifting advisors do in learning about products and having information at their fingertips. “The BDMs, our inside sales, our marketing teams … we’re here to help,” he said.
“It’s true we offer the world in the scope and depth of our product portfolio,” added Bishop, “But we are all about family. Our 100 strong team in Canada, and the agency community is part of our family, too, and we all work together,” in both good times and during today’s challenges.