Silver linings come in all shapes and sizes and in the case of COVID-19, travel advisors are beginning to see theirs finally emerge big and broad.
After months of zero bookings and seemingly endless red tape clearing up refunds, cancellations and rebookings, travel advisors are back in the saddle, enthusiastic about what’s to come, and likely headed for a revival the likes of which the travel industry has never seen before.
Travel Market Report spoke to a number of travel advisors who are beginning to witness this rebirth firsthand, and they were happy to share their stories about how and why their profession is finally receiving the awareness, praise, and recognition it has always deserved.
Cutting Through the Clutter
“I think it’s going to be a great time to be an advisor,” said Sarah Kline, president of Time For Travel, Ltd., based in Davidsonville, Maryland. “This may be a renaissance for us. People who want to travel but are hesitant to go out on their own because they don’t know the requirements and protocols, are reaching out to us as the experts.”
To Kline’s point, largely working in the favor of travel advisors is the disparity of rules and regulations being put forth and changing rapidly by individual destinations, both near and far. For example, while some resort spots do not require Covid-19 testing for admittance or the wearing of masks, there are others that do, and still others that are updating their protocols by the day. If nothing more, trying to keep up with the changes and knowing whether or not the information you’ve gathered online is accurate and timely, could send any traveler into a dither.
Anne Kulhanek, owner of Premier Travel in Luxemburg, Wisconsin, said it not only comes down to separating fact from fiction online but also just having an advocate to lend an ear. “Our knowledge and our reliable sources make the difference. Clients need reassurance and a sounding board to discuss their fears and questions and having us here to help navigate them through the information is crucial. We keep them up to date on changes and we have their back. Some people think that if they read something online, that it’s true. They could be reading something that is completely wrong.”
The Need for Advisors Is Expanding
Kline, who is not only an agency owner but also a mother with a house full of millennials, feels that any publicity around the travel industry (even bad) that was gained as a result of Covid-19, has managed to result in more awareness about the role of an advisor and the need to have one in your corner.
“I don’t think most of my millennial kids’ friends had any idea what I did and now I think we may have reintroduced the millennial generation (who thinks they can do anything on their own) to our profession. I don’t think that particular age group is afraid to travel but they are a little hesitant about what the rules and restrictions are. So while we may lose the older traveler (temporarily) due to health fears, we may gain the younger crowd who just needs a little hand-holding or are too overwhelmed or don’t have the time to navigate all the information themselves.”
Some of the other areas where travel advisors are showing their worth is in the case of travel insurance, with more clients inquiring about purchasing it than before Covid-19. Kline said there are a lot of misconceptions about it, with people unsure about whether they need it, if it’s worth it and what kind of protection is best? “They are overwhelmed and they need somebody to sort it through for them.”
Teresa Gonzalez had a group of about 300 people in Punta Cana when the world began shutting down due to Covid-19 back in March. With travelers being told the border would close and they needed to vacate their properties within 48 hours, Gonzalez and her team of advisors had to kick it into high gear. “We were working nonstop getting our clients home, doing everything we could. Some of our clients were talking to other families at the resorts who were booked through Expedia and they were panicking because they had notices in their rooms that they had to leave and they couldn’t get ahold of who they booked with. They weren’t answering the phones, they were just bailing on people.”
That was the turning point, said Gonzalez. “We helped anyone we could. We got all those people home and I didn’t sleep until the last person landed. People thought they were saving money by doing it on their own, but you really need an advocate.” Gonzalez is happy to report that those clients she helped are now her clients, hopefully for life.
Jennifer Martinez, owner of Just Cruises & Vacations in Clinton Township, Michigan, has also experienced a client re-awakening, so to speak. She had honeymooners booked to leave for Jamaica and within a few days of picking up their documents, Jamaica changed its covid test requirements. “Had I not told them in advance, they would have gone to the airport and been denied boarding. My client thanked me and said, ‘We would have never gotten through this on our own.’”
The Value of An Agent is Now Front and Center
It’s an established belief by most in the travel industry that a good majority of travelers up until now were unaware of the value a travel advisor brings to the table. Thankfully, the upside to Covid-19 has been a new attitude among vacationers that they shouldn’t leave home without one.
James Berglie, president of Be All Inclusive in Fallston, Maryland, runs a local small agency alongside his wife and four other independent contractors. The vast majority of Berglie’s business is wedding groups and he is glad to report that his agency is back to doing 2 to 3 wedding consults per day and even had a group of 25 headed to Mexico last week – the fourth to travel since quarantine began. “Where we are right now is back to our full load sales cycle. Our brides and grooms are still moving forward. They have decided not to put their lives on hold.”
Berglie’s advice to his fellow agents is to run their business with their heart in it.
“This has been the most challenging year for travel for us but from our clients’ standpoint, it was easy. Given the various suppliers we work with, our clients never had to experience 4- to 8-hour hold times. We’ve had so much positive feedback from our clients saying we made the process easy. We worked for them and we went 5 to 6 months without seeing a dime, but this business is my passion. As long as I have a computer and breathe in my lungs, I’ll be working for my client. My reputation is on the line.”
If these business owners’ feedback is any indication, the importance of booking with a travel advisor is more essential than ever.
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