The travel industry could be the hardest hit industry as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and ASTA is working diligently on travel advisors behalf on Capitol Hill to secure relief for agencies. While much of what lays ahead is still unknown, advisors, in the meantime, are relying on one another for support during this difficult time.
“Talk to your comrades in travel, we are all in this together,” said Laurie Jenkins, travel consultant at Hagens Travel and Cruises in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Tammy Estes, Estes Consultant of Travel in Augusta, Maine, said knowing you aren’t in this alone can be a lifeline. “No one can really know and understand and appreciate what we do unless you’re an agent yourself who has been or is going through it.”
If you need solace, Judy Fiorello, owner of Sail and Sand Travel in Williamsburg, Virginia, said travel agent groups and forums have been discussing “what we would be doing after all the cancellations are complete and we're still on this perpetual snow day.”
The influx of these cancellations and rebookings have led to long periods on hold with suppliers. Jenkins said she’s managing with noise-cancelling head phones connected to her cell-phone by bluetooth. That way she can be on hold for hours (9 hours on Saturday, she sayd) and work on other files, take a break, make something to eat, do a load of wash, move around frequently, ride the stationary bike and so on.
For Fiorello, she’s taking proactive steps in the meantime. “Travel will happen once the world calms down again, just as it did with 9/11, SARs, Ebola, a volcano eruption, hurricanes, and other world circumstances.” She’s keeping in contact with clients via newsletters, emails and on social media.
Host agencies and consortiums are supporting advisors through this difficult period. “My host agency for example is helping me a lot to boost my own outlook on putting a positive spin on the situation—that we will get through this together!” Estes said.
Estes said taking advantage of other resources will help overcome challenges during this unprecedented times, such as reaching out to business development managers to decipher the many policies that apply to current and ongoing customers. “They are helping us get through this as well. There are often too many policies to stay abreast of and they remain extremely fluid as the days go by.”
“Reach out to your clients, new and old to provide reassurance at this time,” Jenkins recommended. “Be kind, especially to our suppliers who are trying their absolute best.”
Now can also be a good time to reevaluate your business plan, suggested Fiorello. “What have I always wanted to change, adapt, focus on, or build from? Now is the time to regroup and decide.” She also said it’s a good time to organize “my process to make my workday more efficient once travel picks up again,” and maybe finally finish that supplier training course you’ve been putting off.
“We are making it through because we continue to do what we do best – help people to the best of our ability. Customer service is an art and when the chips are down, that is when we truly shine,” Jenkins said. “I have received some really thoughtful and kind emails from people that have really kept me going.”
All that’s going on can be overwhelming. To that end, Jenkins suggested rationing the news. Look at the COVID-19 numbers once a day, read the advisories and the good-will policies and then shut it off, she said.
Remember to take some time for your own wellbeing. “As a travel advisor some days are tougher than others,” Fiorello said. “So take the time for self-care of getting out in the sun, gardening, finishing a novel, spiritual study, or those things I love that I never had time to do.”