Now that the volcanic ash cloud has dissipated and air travel in Europe is returning to normal (as of press time, at least), it’s important for travel agents to look back and see what lessons can be learned from the experience.
For instance, how did your agency do in dealing with stranded clients? Was your disaster-response plan adequate? Was your customer contact data up to date? And how successful were you in dealing with suppliers? Did they do a good job in helping you assist travelers, or did they let you down? These are some of the questions that need to be asked now, before our memories fade and the lessons are forgotten.
While I have read several articles pointing out how valuable it was to have a good travel agent during the crisis — which, of course, is a great message to get out to consumers — I’ve read almost nothing about travel agents’ responsibilities in regard to crisis management.
To give you an example, I received an e-mail recently from an agent who had a group stranded in Europe and was angry at his supplier because he felt they were not doing all that they could to compensate his clients. The supplier, on the other hand, was upset with the agent for not advising his group properly and allowing them to book without adequate travel insurance. Honestly, I think both arguments are valid. The supplier should always be forward-thinking and should realize that a little compromising could go a long way to creating loyal customers in the future, but the travel agent certainly has the responsibility to serve his customers better and arrange proper insurance, especially on a group trip.
While it’s great for agents to be acknowledged by the mainstream press for being the experts that they are, if agents fail to justify that respect by not properly serving their clients, any positive PR will be lost. After all, it only takes a few hapless agents to turn the tide against the profession at large. At least until the next disaster strikes.