As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt all over the world, there is still much uncertainty about what the future of the travel industry will look like. Despite this, travel advisors’ expertise and supplier connections may be more important than ever in helping stimulate the industry’s recovery, and putting future travelers at ease.
“Travel advisors have always been able to really cater to what people want in a vacation. They are constantly dealing with the travelers’ preferences, and now there are going to be new widespread preferences, like avoiding crowds,” said Brett Snyder, President and CEO of Airline Dork, an air travel assistance company.
He believes advisors will be a key factor in restoring confidence in destinations, because personalization is their stock-in-trade.
“They’re wondering ‘how can I visit the places I want to go, but still remain safe?’ and I think that’s going to be hard for most travelers to do on their own. So getting someone who’s an expert in certain areas will make a huge difference, not only in helping travelers have a great experience, but also giving them peace of mind having someone with knowledge and expertise working for them.”
As the global travel industry came to a grinding halt in March, Barbara Hammer, an Ovation luxury travel advisor, has been in constant contact with many of her corporate and leisure clients to keep them updated and address their concerns.
She said that in her 30 years as a travel advisor “I cannot ever think of a world crisis that has devastated our current business more.”
“I have been very positive in assuring my clients that I have been in contact on a daily basis with airline executives, hotel General Managers and tour operators who have been keeping me informed as to the precautions and safety measures that they are taking,” said Hammer.
While before the pandemic, people may have felt more comfortable arranging their own travel itineraries or using OTAs, she believes the level of personalization and one-on-one interactions provided by advisors will be more valuable than ever going forward. This is especially true now, as destinations start to reopen and people start feeling ready to make future travel plans.
“As a very well regarded top advisor in the industry, my clients have looked to me for advice on many levels,” said Hammer.
“Although these are challenging times in the travel industry, I feel that top travel advisors who keep in contact with their clients will be even busier when the world returns to normal. Our clients have come to realize during times of trouble that we are truly their best resource.”
While advisors act as a resource for travelers, supplier partners are fantastic resources for advisors to take advantage of.
“We are in constant communication with our destinations and hotel partners almost every single day,” said Melissa Ladvala, sales manager for MT Sobek.
She said that level of communication was necessary due to the speed at which schedules and services could change under the current climate.
“For me, it’s so difficult to try to keep tabs on everything opening and closing and what the facilities are going to look like… [And] that’s what I do all day every day, so for the general traveler to try to wrap their mind around and keep track of [all these factors] that make their vacation possible… it’s really hard to sort of wrangle all that information, especially now.”
She said that with states starting to reopen, it will be important to see how it’s being handled and watch for early signs of a resurgent outbreak.
“We’re talking with our guides regularly to see how they think the season will go, what kinds of safety precautions they’re going to be putting into place, how they are going to be managing tours while keeping people safe…it’s a constant back and forth with all of our operators and hotel partners.”
“Those relationships are essential for us always. Just having a good relationship with the hotel and guide partners make all the difference. Knowing what you’ll be dealing with and what the standards are.”
In addition to providing updates on the changing policies and offerings, cultivating supplier relationships also helps give advisors and their clients on-site assistance to help meet their travel expectations.
“They keep me in the loop. Really we keep each other in the loop. Our communication is top notch, and I truly think that’s what differentiates using a travel advisor, versus not using an advisor,” said Lauren Doyle, executive vice president of the Travel Mechanic.
“When clients travel to different countries, our partners are there in-country to assist in case something goes wrong.”
She said that even though the world is faced with an unprecedented change right now, the role of a travel advisor remains the same; to do what’s best for the client, whatever their situation may be.
“Once it gets busy again, we’ll be able to really speak to our [value] and use examples like these to highlight our worth and efficiency for new clients.” And not just the value an advisor provides directly to the client, but the value partners and suppliers on the ground provide as well.
Having someone in your corner
As the industry prepares for the return of travel, now is the time when advisors should highlight their value.
“I am definitely getting a lot of questions from clients,” said Nicole Beckler, Owner of Live A Little Vacations. “They worry about wearing a mask on vacation, and the changes to the buffet set up, but people really just want to be sure everything is clean and safe, and that they’re not going to allow high risk people to destinations.”
She said that travel advisors would become more popular going forward because of the many stories of travel nightmares leading up to the onset of the coronavirus lockdowns, from people being stuck at destinations when international borders closed, to those seeking help on rebooking or refunding cancelled travel plans.
“I posted about sitting on hold with a cruise line for 6 hours trying to get through to get your money back or get you a future cruise credit. I had people who didn’t even book with me, calling me asking what they could do because they couldn’t get through,” said Beckler.
“I think it’s very important to use a travel advisor, and I think going forward we’re going to have a lot more clients because of that.
Trends are starting to emerge as people book travel again, and as many travelers are opting for my personalized attention and accommodations, advisors can capitalize on that by catering customized itineraries.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more private travel,” said Hammer. “People are going to be comfortable going with just their families. I think private homes or condo-style units are going to be a popular choice, where they’ll have some privacy and control [over the space].”
She believes advisors will rise in popularity because of the peace of mind it brings travelers, knowing they have someone back home watching after them.
And especially now, with so many unanswered questions regarding the future of the industry, how important it is to have someone in your corner, no matter what corner of the world you’re in.
“They almost don’t think about it when thing are freewheeling and easy, but now I think people will realize how smart it is to have someone working on their behalf. They’ll be looking for some more handholding and advice, especially when they start thinking about traveling internationally again,” said Hammer.
“Things are so uncertain [right now], we take it one day at a time, but we’re hopeful that people will be able to travel soon and we’re ready when they’re ready.”