Throughout the summer, many travel advisors have reported a steady uptick in bookings. In fact, a June 2021 poll conducted by the American Society of Travel Advisors found that 76 percent of advisors are seeing an increase in customers compared with pre-pandemic levels, and 81 percent of advisors are hearing from travelers who have never before used an advisor.
Travel professionals who are thriving today have a secret weapon: They’ve figured out how to help clients and prospects feel that they can travel safely, even though the pandemic lingers on. Here are some of the main concerns facing travelers today and what you, as their trusted travel advisor, can do to address them.
What if I get COVID while traveling?
“Hands down the biggest concern and objection to travel, especially internationally, is what happens if I get sick or test positive in destination,” said Sarah Kline, president of Time For Travel, Ltd., in Davidsonville, Maryland.
To help alleviate their fears, she tells her clients: “If you plan to travel, get vaccinated, as many places are now requiring it. And test before you leave, even if it’s a destination that doesn't require it. Seeing a negative test gives you peace of mind and protects those around you.”
What if I get quarantined or the borders close and I can’t get home?
Another travel safety concern that advisors hear from clients is about the testing requirement to reenter the U.S. They’re worried about being stuck in destination if they test positive. The truth is, sometimes travelers do have to quarantine, and sometimes borders close. But with patience, these things can always be worked out.
Kline calmly explains that it’s unlikely for borders to close or that her clients will have to remain somewhere outside the U.S. But even if that happened, the time would be allotted to get everyone home, just like when the pandemic first struck last year.
Here’s how Kristi Huss, travel advisor and owner, at Travel Savvi, Inc., in Sartell, Minnesota, handles it: “I tell them I will only give them travel options that have safety protocols put in place; offer onsite testing; and a plan in place in case of a positive result.”
Travis Paquin, co-owner of 417 Travel, in Springfield, Missouri, said their clients seem to be more concerned about being quarantined then catching COVID. “We explain the resort protocols, and the value of the insurance, and the options for free quarantine,” he said.
Do I need to be vaccinated to travel?
“What I hear now mostly isn’t so much about the how things are being handled in destination or resort, but more of if they need to be vaccinated to go there,” said Huss, “to which I reply with what the current travel regulations are, but say that even if this is how they are today, they could change prior to their trip, and to take travel insurance should they want to cancel their trip, if there are changes prior to their trip that they aren’t comfortable with.”
What if I change my mind and I don’t want to go?
Although the world has been living in pandemic-influenced times for nearly two years now, there’s no denying that the situation is still fluid. No one knows that better than the travel advisors who daily follow the ever-changing health and safety protocols in destinations around the world. Top tip on the subject: Always, always, always recommend travel insurance.
Huss noted: “It sounds like a broken record, but [always offer] travel insurance. I say the one thing that the last 18 months have taught us, is that it’s difficult to predict what things will look like when they take their trip. The one sure thing I can tell you is that travel insurance is your best protection and gives you peace of mind.
"I tell clients to take one of the cancel for any reason travel insurance options. That way they can get the trip booked, have something to look forward to, and not have to worry about the ‘what ifs’ because they can cancel for any reason.”
Is Mexico [or fill in any destination] safe?
Leading by example and personal experience are key to alleviating clients’ travel safety concerns. “I’ll admit my first trip I went on during COVID, I was nervous,” said Huss. “I never get that way and always feel excited to go somewhere, and it felt totally strange to me. However, it gave me some good insight on how my clients might be feeling who don’t travel nearly as much as I do, and it allowed me to communicate with them better. Now, I have a trip planned per month through the rest of the year. I feel the airlines, transfer companies, and resorts that I have been to have done a great job. There are many things that have been implemented for safety protocols that I hope will be here to stay.”
Kline has also traveled out of the country 11 times since the pandemic. She said: “I tell clients that I would not send them anywhere that I have not been since the pandemic. I give them my personal experience in the destination and review what's new with safety and protocols … I cannot be an advocate for travel and be able to properly educate my customers if I haven't experienced all aspects of my job.”
Paquin, who has travel agents in destination every month, even put together a Safe Travel program earlier in the pandemic that highlights their actual travel experiences. He said, “We’re operating as if COVID is the future of travel, and our destinations have all the plans in place to ensure a safer travel experience. We’re not waiting or operating as if COVID is going away. You better have a marketing plan that includes ‘safe travel’ for the next few years.”
#1 piece of advice?
We asked several travel advisors what’s their best piece of advice for a traveler who’s sitting on the fence about whether to book a trip or not because of health and safety concerns. The decisive answer was to recommend travel insurance. If anything changes last-minute, with cancel for any reason coverage, they can recoup their vacation investment and rebook at a later time when they feel more comfortable traveling.
Wrapping it up
“Although I have been through many events and changes over the years within our industry that have changed the way I do business, nothing has ever come close to the last 18 months. Who could have ever known what was to come, right?” said Georgiann Jaworskyj, owner and manager at Custom Travel Services, in Merchantville, New Jersey. “I have taken on the role of advisor in more ways than travel. I am a counselor, instilling calm, presenting the facts of traveling safely. In many situations, I have talked my clients off cliffs! But it's been so rewarding, just how thankful the clients have been − and grateful, that I guided them to travel again.
She added this, something that many of us in travel have been sensing deep down inside: “My feeling is that COVID is not disappearing any time soon, and we all need to learn to live with it and get on with our lives! Life is short, take a trip.”
And here’s one more high note to end on, from Kline: “I think this is a renaissance for the travel professional. We are needed, we are valued, and we are back. Use this time to showcase your knowledge and years of experience. When the flood gates open, be ready!”
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