What Does Your Out-of-Office Message Say?

by Richard D'Ambrosio
What Does Your Out-of-Office Message Say?

Completely disconnecting might be rare, if not impossible, for travel agents. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Travel advisors love to book vacations — even sometimes for themselves. When they finally get away, most advisors stay in touch with their business, to help care for clients they’ve booked, while also checking in on prospects and other business.

Even though they are trying to get away, they have their laptops and other devices with them, and are checking in on their business regularly, so their out-of-office message alerts clients to response times and service options.

For those lucky enough to get completely off the grid and take a “real” vacation, out-of-office messages need to be functional, redirecting telephone calls and emails to advisors and others providing backup support.

Travel Market Report queried advisors about their out-of-office messages. The wide range of responses show the personalities of each business, and how these entrepreneurs see their own vacation time fitting in with their career.

Many agents told Travel Market Report that disconnecting completely is rare, if ever possible.

“I work hard to train my clients right upfront about my availability and access,” said Dawn Elizabeth Stephenson, CEO at Platinum Travel Insiders. “I prefer not to put up out-of-office messages. I will give responsibility to others when needed, but will still check in, as well.”

This summer, Diane Bean, owner of Luxury Travel Advisor, in Bangor, Maine, vacationed on Mt. Desert Island in Acadia National Park. “It’s not far from home for me, so I packed up my computer and files and I worked every day for a few hours. No need to change my out-of-office message.”

“I generally work while I'm on vacation, because my [social media] pics inspire others to book,” said Tonya Carter, from Awesome Horizons Travel. “However, I do post a cute meme on my Facebook business page stating that I'm on vacation.”

Striking a balance
Trying to be client-centric, but also reasonable about their ability to respond to voicemails or emails, advisors attempt to strike a balance.

At Wonderland Family Vacations, owner Margie Lenau’ developed her current message from experience over time. “I learned I needed to unplug and have competent agents on call for help when it is needed. I want my clients to feel well cared for, so in my message, I thank them, give them a glimpse of why I am out if I can, give contact information, and keep them engaged by directing them to Facebook.”

Lenau’ gave this example: “You may contact my colleague, xxx at xxx, if you need help with a travel emergency. If you would like to book a vacation, please send us a detailed email and we will get back to you with a quote as soon as possible. Or you may contact my colleague xxx at xxx. In the meantime, please follow us on FACEBOOK! You can see photos of my trip there!”

Bonnie Philbrick, at Make a Difference Safaris, in Palm Coast, Florida, also tries to convey both the support her clients get when she is gone, and that she has earned her downtime. “I say … 'Guess what? It's my turn! That's right, I'm taking my own vacation from [dates] ... If you need assistance ... [names and contact information].”

For those agents who are lucky enough to have back-up, setting up out-of-office messages can get very detailed.

“I have a small process to alert my clients that I am traveling,” said Kelly O'Brien Ortiz, owner of Guru Travel, in Elgin, Illinois. “My rule is if I am traveling on business, I will respond to emails, but it may take me longer. If I am on vacation, I have coverage so I can take a break.”

“About a week out, I alert my clients I am going to be gone. I let them know that if I am on business, how and when I will be able to respond to emails. If I am on personal, only true travel emergencies will be answered by my assistant or the person covering for me. I then have examples of true travel emergencies listed so they know. Then, I use similar verbiage in my out-of-office messages.”

Helen Prochilo, of Promal Vacations, on Long Island, New York, has a similar system. “I prepare any clients I am working with in advance and let them know when I’ll be out of the office so we can handle any payments or questions before I leave. I also add a statement on my email signatures saying I will be out of the office and to finalize any issues before I leave,” Prochilo said.

“If I have clients traveling while I’m away, I let them know in advance who to contact in case of emergency,” said Jessica Santini Levenhagen, of Easy Days Getaways, who tries to shut off completely. “I am lucky enough to have two ICs working for me, and my phone message when I am gone says I’m out of the office and leaves their names and numbers to call while I’m out. They have been able to handle any new bookings that come in.”

Setting expectations when traveling far afield
Out-of-office messages can get trickier when an agent is dealing with dramatic differences in time zones because they are traveling internationally.

Cindy Blanchard, owner of A Tourist Life Travel, in Worcester, Massachusetts, typically records a voicemail that is clear about her access to her email, and says: “I’m exploring new destinations for you. Email me or please leave a message and I will get back to you when I return.”

If a communication is not an emergency situation, Cheryl Dworman, from Howell Travel and Cruises, in Scottsdale, Arizona, asks, “Please consider waiting until my return to the office.”

When she was traveling through Southeast Asia this past March, Angela Hughes, co-owner of Trips Inc., had an out-of-office message that notified her clients where she was, and that she was meeting with suppliers and taking a personal family vacation.  She wrote: “I will be checking email twice a day and working with clients via email only and by phone if it is urgent. I will be working again full-time on Monday, April 1, 2019. Please play attention to time zones if you need to contact me. Thanks for your business!”

On a trip to Africa once, Lila Fox Ermel, owner of her own SmartFlyer agency, wrote to her clients: “Please note that I will be traveling in Botswana & Mozambique until [date]. Although I will be working daily, there will be a delay in my usual response time due to difference in time zones and limited WiFi.”

She noted that a colleague was monitoring her email inbox for urgent requests “Monday - Friday 9AM - 6PM EST.” If their inquiry was “an urgent flight or hotel need outside of the hours listed above and you are an existing client,” they were instructed to contact SmartFlyer’s 24/7 line and use a specific reference code.

The message continued: “Note that a fee may apply. If you are in travel and have a question, please kindly refer to your travel documents and any in-country contacts, as applicable. For all new trip planning inquiries, I look forward to working with you and will respond shortly.” 

No-guilt getaways
Other advisors felt it was important that they take a vacation like their clients do, and completely shut down.

Shannon Cunningham LeBlanc, of Paradise Vacation Escapes, in Prairieville, Louisiana, once included a picture of two empty beach chairs in her emails, including a sign that said “Do not disturb,” and instructions to call or email her assistant. “I explained I was on my romantic getaway disconnecting with the world to reconnect with my husband, like I preach,” she said.

Heather Clifton, cruise and travel consultant, at CruiseExperts Travel, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, uses an email template like this: “Thank you for your email. I am out of the office and do not have access to my email and it is not monitored in my absence. This is the ONLY out of office notice you will receive until my return on [date].” 

For others, no matter how hard they try to treat themselves to a real vacation, the challenge is too great. Leila Peverett Coe, of Go Your Own Way Travel, in Orlando, Florida, took a few days off in May. “My OOO message was something along the lines of ‘I’ve been working 6-7 days a week planning vacations since the beginning of January, so I am taking a much-needed break for a few days to recharge and to celebrate my anniversary.’ Did I live up to that and not work? No, of course not,” she said.

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