Travel might be off-limits until further notice, but insightful travel advisors have recognized the significance of keeping communication channels with clients (and travel partners) wide open.
Below, advisors share creative ways to continue cultivating relationships with clients, from sending gifts that benefit frontline healthcare workers to hosting virtual dance parties and group meditation sessions.
Speak From the Heart
Sarah Lang, founder and CEO of Foray Travel + Event Design in San Francisco, says she has changed the tone of how she communicates.
“In this time of isolation and worry, there’s nothing more important than human connection,” she said. “So, I’ve introduced a much more personal tone in my communications. My most recent newsletter to clients was a very heartfelt letter. I was never sure how engaged clients were with my newsletter before, but I received such kind replies afterward.”
Offer Face-to-Face Contact — Virtually
Angelina Zeppieri, a luxury travel advisor at Elli Travel Group in New York City, has found success in opening fresh methods of communication to clients, including FaceTime and video conferencing via Zoom.
“That way we can genuinely connect,” she said. “They can feel more at ease expressing any concern, and we can talk through things if needed. It's a very uncertain time, but I just want my clients to know that I'm here for them; they can call, text, email, FaceTime, whatever.”
Have a Back-Up Plan
Vincent Wong, a New York City-based personal travel concierge for Chubit Travel (who is currently working remotely in Medellin, Colombia), isn’t leaving anything to chance.
According to Wong, he has always traveled with four mobile cellphones in case of emergencies, and they have proven extremely useful during throughout the COVID-19 outbreak so far (his travel agency’s phone lines are often tied up entirely). This tactic is something he learned from his past job in information technology for hedge fund companies.
“Our agency also has an internal Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system for additional phone lines; I have access to two of them remotely, which gives me a total of six phone lines to work with at any given time,” he said. “Having these additional lines is crucial in times like these, because we have to constantly call suppliers as well as clients to make sure everyone is in the loop. For travelers in a destination, it gives them assurance, as they can hear us on the other line with the airlines to get them home. Essentially, these lines just increase productivity and ensure I do not have a long queue with my clients.”
Wong also utilizes Facebook, in addition to instant messaging apps Telegram and WhatsApp, to communicate with travelers who need immediate assistance.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Foray Travel + Event Design’s Lang deliberately reworked her Instagram strategy. Though her posts were mostly informative before — showcasing destinations and offering cultural insights — she’s now taking a new approach: letting people know how she is satisfying her wanderlust from her own home.
“I’m allowing people into my life a little more, from sharing my Japanese cooking and how to make homemade sushi; to highlighting mementos from my favorite trips; to posting photos of my neighborhood from my walks,” she said. “Not only do I think that these little snippets of human connection are what the world needs right now, I also think that showing this human element and vulnerability is one of the biggest competitive advantages that travel advisors have over the OTAs of the world.”
Not only do I think that these little snippets of human connection are what the world needs right now, I also think that showing this human element and vulnerability is one of the biggest competitive advantages that travel advisors have over the OTAs of the world.
Mail a Handwritten Note
Olivia Link, a travel advisor at Lake Shore Travel in Chicago, understands that this is an emotional time for many of her clients, and she wants them to feel supported. To do so, she has added a personal touch for clients who have had trips canceled due to the coronavirus: handwritten notes.
“I’m popping them in the mail to let my clients know that I’m thinking of them, and that even though they are unable to travel as planned, the world will still be waiting when the pandemic is over,” Link said. “I think that this extra touch, as opposed to only an email, really helps reinforce how much I care about my clients as individuals.”
Send a Gift That Also Gives Back
Not only is Megan Jones letting clients know that she’s thinking of them, she’s also donating to frontline healthcare workers — a twice-as-wonderful deed.
The Macon, Ga.-based travel consultant with Epperly Travel has sent a few clients a Stay at Home box by Grice Grove, a small business owned by her friend, and the boxes are customized based off interest (think: locally sourced chocolate, face masks, wine and more). Twenty percent of the proceeds from each box sold benefits nonprofit organization Cheers for Good, which is providing meals via local restaurants for frontline employees at Northside Hospital, Emory Healthcare and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in Georgia.
“It's an all-around win to send a thoughtful gift to my clients, support a small business and give back to a charity whose cause is pivotal in the fight against COVID-19,” Jones said.
Get the Message Out Quickly
According to Sinem Sen, founder of SS Gold Travel in Los Angeles, she has long utilized Instagram as her main platform to share important updates in the travel world with clients and followers. For her, it makes sense to use Instagram because she’s able to reach clients and followers all at once, and they can direct message her with specific questions (in addition to email, texts or calls).
“Mass emails can get lost in people's inboxes, but Instagram is a direct way to get a message across,” she said. “Right now, more than ever, I want to be a resource to my clients with updates on travel and the health crisis. People are getting overwhelmed with all the information out there, and since we are among the first to receive information regarding travel, I like to sift through it and put out what I consider to be the most useful for my clients.”
Collaborate With Suppliers
Janelle Ruhumuliza, a San Diego-based luxury travel advisor with Lilacs & Chai, an affiliate of Avant-Garde Travel, knows the value of teaming up with suppliers. Her clients had booked a couple suites for a long weekend at Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, but the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Jesus Aguirre, travel industry sales manager at the resort, reached out to Ruhumuliza with the idea of sending her clients a “wish you were here” flyer. The flyer was then personalized with their names, along with several pages of beautiful images depicting the resort.
“It made my clients feel special, and it was a great way to make me look good for this particular repeat client of mine,” she said.
Grow Your Community (and Have Fun With It)
Every Friday night at 8 p.m. EST, members of the travel industry are gathering on Zoom to get their boogie on — all from a safe distance. Launched March 20, the weekly virtual dance parties are hosted by Largay Travel, a branch of the Tzell Travel Group, and welcome everyone from Largay Travel’s employees, clients and supplier partners to families, friends and more.
“What we are trying to do with this, and many other initiatives going forward, is to offer relief from the long weeks everyone is experiencing,” said Scott Largay, director of marketing for Largay Travel. “Our company’s belief and culture has been built around ‘the art of joyful commerce.’ Even in times when we can't give our clients and team the ability to create travel dreams, we want them to keep dreaming, and embrace and maintain the human connection we all need during these trying times.”
In addition, Largay Travel is hosting weekly Meditation Mondays at 5:45 p.m. ET, also through Zoom. The sessions are led by a travel advisor employee who is also well-versed in meditation practices.
Even in times when we can't give our clients and team the ability to create travel dreams, we want them to keep dreaming and embrace and maintain the human connection we all need during these trying times.
Keep Travel Top of Mind
Countless trips have been canceled, but once tourism reopens, many clients still want to see those itineraries through. In the meantime, advisors can send gentle reminders about those experiences so that their clients have something to look forward to.
“One client had a trip to Copenhagen planned for June, which we have canceled,” said Amy Siegal, a travel advisor with Valerie Wilson Travel in New York City. “I just mailed him an article I found about Copenhagen that included the hotel he was supposed to be staying at. I am encouraging him and other clients that this is just a delay, and that we will be back on track soon.”
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.