Travel advisors are well-equipped to handle just about anything travel-related. Give them a destination, a budget, and a few key interests, and they can whip up an entirely personalized itinerary that will make a client feel over-the-moon, as they make their travel dreams come true.
But what happens when an unforeseen travel nightmare occurs? We’re talking, “I can’t find my passport and I leave for my trip in a week!” or “Surprise, a bad storm hit, and all flights are canceled.”
Here are seven of the most common travel dilemmas - and tips on how to conquer them on behalf of your clients. These are exactly the kinds of scenarios that demonstrate why travelers should always, always, always use a trusted travel agent to book their trips.
1. Passport issues
Talk to any travel agent, and they’ll tell you that passport issues top the list of daily challenges. Michele Cartwright, CTA, president and travel advisor at Destinations by Design, said: “Just recently, a client contacted one of our agents about her adult daughter’s passport — it had expired and their vacation started the next day. We immediately obtained an appointment for the client to get an emergency passport at the regional passport processing center, changed her flights and hotel dates by one day, and made the trip happen for this mother and daughter.” Travel agent 1/travel crisis 0.
One of the simplest ways to avoid passport problems and save your clients’ trips, suggests Shelley Fry, marketing and media manager, at ExpeditionTrips, is to “collect passport details as soon as possible after booking, and double-check the expiration date. Or, if they’re booking last-minute, confirm passport validity before processing payment.”
Joe Lang, owner of Joe Lang Travel, keeps a tickler file of when his clients’ passports are approaching their 6-months-until-expiration date. He proactively sends them emails reminding them to take care of the renewal, so they’re always ready to travel.
Even when you do everything right, sometimes life throws a curve ball. Take this story, told by Azzam Hajyousif, CEO of TNE Consultants, LLC: “We had two clients in Athens, Greece, who had a bag stolen from them, which unfortunately had both of their passports, their wallets, their cash, and their airline tickets inside the bag. That was one really important bag. They contacted us via a collect call, and we coordinated with the U.S. embassy to help them get temporary passports. Fortunately, we had copies of their passports on hand in our file, and we were able to fax those copies to the U.S. embassy in Athens. We contacted Lufthansa regarding their airline tickets and were able to have the return portion of their ticket reissued for a small fee. The passengers were able to use their new passports and their reissued tickets to get back home.”
The moral of the story: Tell your clients to make copies of all of their identification documents. Keep one copy with a trusted family member and one with a trusted travel agent. And, tell them not to put all of their travel documents and money in the same bag.
2. Name misspelled
“Even with the best of intentions, stuff happens,” said Steve Leichner, of PSL Travel. “We have had the situation [of a name misspelling] happen a couple of times. Each time, we contacted the airline as soon as the mistake was found. In most cases, the airlines will work with you to correct it. However, if the name is so different that it looks like it was a spaceholder, they will charge a fee for a rebooking and use the current fare.”
3. Flights delayed
Everyone knows that flight delays are part and parcel of travel these days. Staying in communication with a dedicated travel advisor is the key to dealing with delays. Leichner relayed: “A few years ago, there was a convention in Lisbon, which ended on the day of a general strike in Portugal. As soon as the strike was imminent, we rearranged everybody's schedules and extended their hotel stays, and changed their flights and notified them of the change. Instead of a real hassle, they had an extended vacation.”
He, along with nearly every travel advisor that Travel Market Report spoke to, also said to make sure your clients build enough time into their travel schedules (three hours for connecting flights at major airports), and that they have good travel insurance.
Tammy Hemsath, of Midwest Managed Travel, also encourages “corporate agencies to have some sort of emergency service line their travelers can call for immediate assistance. They will appreciate the fact they can get in touch with an agent at any time day or night, rather than calling the airline or standing in line at the airport.”
4. Lost luggage
Oh, the bane of lost luggage. What to do? “Hopefully most travelers know to keep critical items (e.g., prescriptions) with them on the plane, but we also suggest carrying on items that are hard to replace once abroad, because — for remote cruising destinations like the polar regions or Galapagos — having the right gear can make or break a guest’s trip,” said Fry of ExpeditionTrips.
Mike Edic, owner of Pioneer Travel, said: “It doesn't hurt to take a picture of what your suitcase looks like. When I worked in the Lost and Found office for an airline, you'd be surprised at how many people had no idea what their suitcase looked like, or even what color it was.”
And Lang offered this tip: When you print out your travel insurance policy information, there should be a tag included that contains your information. You can laminate it and attach it to your luggage. Whoever finds it can scan it so that the insurance company can get it back to you.
Here’s a lost luggage story that wins the best travel tale prize in this category. Hajyousif described: “We had a client who was going to propose to his girlfriend in California. So, as part of the celebration, he purchased two extremely expensive bottles of wine (along the lines of $400 per bottle). He packed the bottles in his checked luggage, secured them so they wouldn’t break, and got on his flight. When he landed and got to baggage claim, his bags never showed up. They were going to celebrate her birthday in San Francisco and then fly to Arizona to meet some friends. He contacted the airline to find his bag, and by the time they found it, it was not going to arrive before his departure from San Francisco to Phoenix. Hence, he decided to postpone the proposal until they arrived in Arizona, so he could present the wine there. The wine, by the way, was from the year she was born, so it had some significance for the proposal.”
Fast-forward: The airline lost his precious bag for a second time on the second leg of their journey. Under duress and not his usual calm self, the client called Hajyousif’s office. “We were able to source two bottles of wine from a similar year as his fiancé‘s birthday, though not the same brand or vintage … He was able to complete his proposal, make it a very memorable event, and eventually was reunited with his original bottles of wine when he finally got back to Chicago.”
Now that’s how travel advisors can go above and beyond to assist their clients, who will forever remember how they saved the day.
5. Couple breaks up before the trip
“This has happened a few times with our clients,” said Leichner. “Unfortunately, it is totally unpredictable. Some couples will take a travel protection plan with a cancel for any reason clause. It is about a 20% higher cost than a regular policy, but it will cover the situation … Always contact the suppliers involved and explain the situation. Even though they have no obligation to do it, sometimes they will either refund the money or issues credits.”
Lang makes a good point that this really applies to any two or more people traveling together, where someone may change their mind about going on the trip. As a precaution, recommend cancel for any reason travel insurance.
6. Have to cancel trip
There are so many unexpected circumstances that can cause a traveler to have to cancel a trip. Tammy Hemsath, president of Midwest Managed Travel, said: “First and foremost, travel insurance is key for leisure clients, who need to cancel before the trip. My business is mostly business travel, so most of my corporate clients have a blanket insurance policy for all of their travelers when traveling for business. Small business travelers can purchase annual insurance for coverage, as well. This will provide additional medical insurance, lost or delayed baggage, trip cancellation, and trip delay.”
7. Scandalous circumstances
Some things just leave you shaking your head. Edic explained: “I have had clients come to me after talking to another local agency, and this agency telling them that the Dominican Republic would charge them a $799 departure fee at the airport if they didn't pay it in advance. The agency would threaten them by saying they could be put in jail for refusing to pay this fee; and when the traveler would pay the fees directly to the agency, they would manipulate the receipts from the tour operator to reflect the updated total cost, and not what the actual trip cost.” When in doubt, travelers should always call another agency and verify pricing.
As long as people travel, there will be dilemmas that pop up now and again. Lang said: “Travel crises, handle them one at a time … one by one, if it happens, when it happens. And usually, it happens daily ... Travel is not an exact science. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to use a travel advisor.”
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