As the travel landscape continues to evolve in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important for advisors to be aware of the changing mindset of their traveler clients. From setting realistic expectations for customers, to communicating regularly with your suppliers, advisors have to learn to adapt to the ever-changing needs of post-COVID travelers.
To help navigate this complex issue, a panel of travel industry leaders held a discussion during ASTA Global Live conference last month, to teach advisors how they can better understand the psychology of their clients.
“With travelers starting to look for their next adventure, it’s really important that we understand the travel landscape that we’re all facing right now,” said Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group. “The fact is the playbook for post-pandemic travel is still being written, and as an industry, we’re going to have to adapt how we sell travel.”
1. Manage expectations
Most people realize that travel this year is going to look significantly different than previous years. With travel restrictions limiting international options, it will be up to advisors to set and manage client expectations when they are ready to travel again.
“After 9/11, people were afraid of flying again, and it was kind of up to advisors to set that expectation for what those new safety protocols were going to be,” said Jim Tedesco, vice president of sales for ALG. “This is very similar, but the difference now is we have to set that expectation from start to finish. A person may take the same vacation every year for ten years in a row, but this year things are going to be a little different, and we need to make sure that we’re managing those expectations, while considering all the variables of their travel, experiences and accommodations.”
“What we’re starting to see is conditions at the resort where chairs are six feet apart, and you can only dine with your party, and the pool bar is closed so people have to sort of make their own little private parties. People are starting to realize they do want to go on vacation, but they have to be ready to make their own fun.”
“Setting those expectations will certainly help the overall experience, and the advisors will definitely come out showing the value they provide.”
A series of new trends have started emerging as travelers are opting for more closer-to-home destinations, choosing small groups to travel with, and seeking relaxing vacation experiences. And while overall, people are seeking shorter stays for their trips, they are willing to spend more money on vacations.
“We’re having to be really thoughtful as to how the experience might be different when they arrive, so managing those expectations [will be important],” said Kareem George, founder and principal of Culture Traveler, LLC, a boutique luxury travel company.
2. Use all the tools and resources available
As advisors are navigating this new travel landscape, they should be aware of all of the tools and resources at their disposal, from the advice and guidelines provided by ASTA and consortia, to your personal or professional networks.
“As always with the travel industry, if you can experience it yourself, you can explain it to your customers,” said Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel.
“Even though advisors can’t all travel freely like they used to, I recommend tapping into your network, because what I’m seeing now is even though I can’t go everywhere, I know a lot of agents through my professional and social networks. So anytime we’ve been looking to book a resort, that’s actually where I’ve gone to first to find a colleague who’s been there.”
“Also the tourism boards have phenomenal resources, this is the only reason they exist, to make sure the customers understand the destinations, and to provide real-time updates.”
He also recommends advisors communicate with the hotels directly to ensure they know what the situation will be upon their client’s arrival. They can alleviate some of the concerns of customers because they know exactly what is happening in the destination.
“A lot of companies have really stepped up in creating portals and links to other suppliers, airports, hoteliers and tourism boards,” said Tedesco. “I definitely recommend making sure advisors are aware of those so that they can better [set] those expectations.”
3. Nurture client relationships
“[After this crisis] advisors will be keeping customers for life and those customer relationships are the greatest asset an advisor can have,” said Friedman. “And empathy is the best investment you can make in fostering that relationship with clients.”
Fostering a healthy relationship with your clients is key to surviving this crisis. The industry will need the strength of advisors to help lead the way back to the return of steady travel, but travelers will need the personal attention and expertise of a trusted travel advisors to restore their confidence, and get them comfortable with the idea of traveling again.
“I think as advisors, empathy is a big factor for clients,” said Tedesco. “Our job as advisors is really to guide them, not tell them. And for that, we need to listen, and communicate the information that they need to hear to make an informed decision. And when they’re ready, we’re ready.”
The advisor/client relationship is built on trust and consumer confidence, and the key to maintaining that element of trust, is also having the right information to keep your clients informed.
“It’s important to know the facts, and don’t sell with what you heard on TV,” said Ron Gulaskey, vice president of Celebrity Cruises.
With so much new, and often conflicting, information, staying up-to-date on everything going on in the destinations is paramount for advisors, especially now. “This is the best time to show the value that advisors bring to the table. Stick to the facts that you get from your suppliers or ASTA or other reliable travel related updates,” said Gulaskey.
Another key factor to nurturing a good client relationship is communication, and not just relaying important information, but listening. The world of travel has changed and so too did the dreams and expectations of everyday travelers. Now is the time to hear them out, and see how best to serve them.
“Obviously health and safety if at the top of the list of customer concerns, but what I found interesting is people want to be heard,” said Genung. “They really want you to understand what they’re looking for and what they’re looking for is no longer in the brochure. What they want is that really in-depth personal knowledge and experience. This is a perfect opportunity to find out who your customers are, because they’re sharing with you things that they may have never shared before.”