As the pace of business picks up, travel advisors’ workdays are bogged down by a long list of tough challenges – endless re-bookings, ongoing refund battles, insufficient cash flow, rising prices, and limited supply, among others. One pain point that’s particularly problematic for advisors? Agonizingly long supplier hold times.
“My biggest challenge is the turnaround times from suppliers and the excruciatingly long hold times,” said Lauren Cardinale, owner of Travel Design Co. in New Orleans. Cardinale said that nearly every day she spends as much as six to eight hours on hold, often for just one client.
Supplier hold times are “horrible,” agreed Alex Ramsey, owner of All Aboard Travel in Dallas. “It’s taking, overall, three or four times as long to do anything. Everybody tries to be so automated that it’s just a nightmare.”
Ruth Rudnick, owner of Travel Showcase in Belmont, MA, said suppliers have created logjams for her too. “I was on the phone with an airline for three-plus hours, just to make a change on a reservation that I could not do in my GDS or on their website. That’s time-consuming.”
Take a number
The hold times are “just insane,” concurred Scott Kertes, owner of Vacations by Design in Garden City, NY. “It’s a shame because so many vendors have spent a good deal of money developing online booking capabilities, but there are just some elements that can’t be done on the phone.”
Kertes said he had been trying for three days to speak with an individual at Royal Caribbean who is working on something for him. “I can email this person, but ultimately I need to speak to them. It’s, ‘Take a number and get in line.’”
Kertes, whose business is heavily cruise-focused, said he’s also finding it difficult to get up-to-date information from newly rehired reservations staff at the major cruise lines, especially about Covid-related requirements and protocols and changes to the shipboard experience. “Getting accurate answers, especially considering the hold times, is one big giant challenge.”
Getting timely quotes from suppliers is another challenge for advisors. “Some suppliers have a three-week-plus turnaround for new quotes, which is very hard to explain to clients who are eager and ready to get their vacation on the books,” Cardinale said.
Service levels suffering?
Supplier staffing issues, along with shifting pandemic protocols, affect the client experience too, especially at hotels and resorts.
“We’re getting some pretty good complaints about service,” said Ramsey, who caters to a high-end market. “We remind clients that most of the American places have been under lockdowns and have had to let go of tons of staff, and they’re trying to cope every way they can, so things may not be quite like they were two years ago.
“You have to take extra time and make sure you position things for clients,” Ramsey said. “We ask our clients, ‘Have a lot of grace in your heart.’ We say things like that. They’re used to being – I don’t want to say entitled, but they pay a lot of money for these premium properties.
“And I tell the premium properties too, ‘Guys, do your best to put your A-Game on. We need to make them glad that they’re traveling,’” Ramsey said.
Fulfilling client requests
For luxury travel advisors who are accustomed to working closely with hoteliers to alert them to client preferences and special requests and make reservations for meals, spa treatments, and the like, not being able to reach the hotelier can compromise the advisor’s ability to deliver for their clients.
“As a luxury travel advisor, it’s not one and done,” Rudnick said. “I do not make a reservation in February and wait to June to see how things are. It’s a constant conversation with the hotel: Where are the rooms? Are they near each other? What is the housekeeping service? They want spa reservations; I need dinner reservations. What will make it over and above the expectations of my clients?”
These days, especially with changing Covid protocols, that takes “constant follow-up, constant reorganization,” she said.
In late May, just a few weeks before a family of 15 was due to arrive at a five-star domestic hotel to celebrate an 80th birthday, Rudnick still couldn’t get through to the hotelier. “This family combined is spending over $50,000 for a two-night stay, and I cannot reach reservations.
“You’re leaving callbacks. I’m emailing. They’re just so busy and short-staffed.”
She understands that suppliers are grappling with their own problems, including the added demands created by Covid. “It’s not easy for the hotels,” she commented.
“We are all catching up from Covid, with the refunds and the credits and the re-bookings and staffing. Whether it be tour operators, the airlines – staffing is not up to par on the supplier side. That makes it difficult on the advisor side,” Rudnick said.