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Even though the tourism industry has come to a standstill, history has shown that the need, desire and capacity to travel will return in due course, and with great force.
As such, savvy travel advisors are remaining both resilient and productive during the unprecedented COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) crisis — in part to prepare for an imminent influx of travel interest and trip bookings.
Following are helpful tips from fellow advisors and travel executives on how to stay productive during this uncertain period and be ready for travel’s triumphant comeback.
Catch up on reading, learning and overall education.Samantha Dorfman, luxury relationship manager for travel agency MilesAhead, is refreshing her knowledge base by researching the hospitality industry.
“I've been using any spare time I have to read through articles on different hotels, restaurants and destinations; take webinars on various aspects of the industry; and chat with suppliers on anything new they are expecting post COVID-19,” she said. “If bookings are slow, we should be speeding up our knowledge intake.”
Grace McBride, founder of TripKit, a bespoke assistant service for travel advisors, recommends resetting and reenergizing the mind through reading.
“Some of my favorite business books are ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ ‘The $100 Startup’ and ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ and I am currently reading ‘Setting the Table’ by Danny Meyer,” she said. “Using this time to be creative is just as important for your business as your day-to-day sales.”
Fine-tune your branding and marketing.Through her company Bon Vivant Copy, Emily Matras offers copywriting and content marketing services for travel professionals. One of smartest things that advisors can do right now, she says, is to critically assess their foundational marketing asset: their websites.
“Once this crisis passes, consumers are going to want to travel but may be wary and more hesitant than before, and in search of guidance and reassurance — so engendering trust will be huge for travel advisors,” Matras said. “And companies do not come across as trustworthy if they have a slapped-together website or no website at all.”
Once this crisis passes, consumers are going to want to travel but may be wary and more hesitant than before, and in search of guidance and reassurance — so engendering trust will be huge for travel advisors.
Matras asks advisors the following questions:
- How are you backing up any claims to credibility that you make? For example, if you claim to be a “family travel specialist,” what do you point to in your copy as “proof”?
- How are you reassuring your prospects that you can plan a great trip, but also have their backs throughout the entire process?
- Does your website make it sound like you'll book anything for anybody, or do you come across as an expert in a particular region or type of travel? You'll want to strive for the latter, because experts inspire more trust and confidence.
Karen Magee, vice president of partnerships and leisure services for Tzell Travel Group, suggests to prioritize quality control of client databases, customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and other systems already in place.
“Make sure your CRM is organized, and that your client data is correct,” she said. “Look at the different tools available for marketing. There are so many pieces of content that advisors can be using.”
Take advantage of all available resources from consortia, host agencies and more.Vanessa McGovern, co-founder and chief sales officer of host agency Gifted Travel Network, understands that advisors are often too busy to educate themselves on the array of resources offered by host agencies, consortia and the like. Instead, they stick to booking tools that present instant gratification — think hotel upgrades or cruise benefits.
But now’s the perfect opportunity for advisors to lean into services and marketing channels that go above and beyond, McGovern says.
“Consortia and supplier partners spend millions of dollars on these tools,” she added.
This includes turnkey marketing programs such as direct mail. According to McGovern, direct mail marketing programs are largely based on segmented lists, which can be too time-consuming for a busy advisor to go through; however, when they’re utilized, the average transaction size significantly increases.
Reevaluate your finances, including checking off any fiscal housekeeping items.Joni Wu, an independent travel consultant for Luxe Travel, says she is cleaning up her financial operations — including going through her bookings, verifying outstanding invoices and chasing down old commissions — in addition to setting up a better system for future bookings.
“When a business is growing, agents are in a spiral of trying to service bookings, get quotes and all of that,” Wu said. “So, I didn’t have time to set up the right foundation for my business. But now, I know what I’m good at and what I lack: I’m bad at finances, so I should hire someone to help with that area.”
Keep in touch with one another.McGovern of Gifted Travel Network says that although call volume, as well as the appetite for travel, might be low, cabin fever is inevitable — and inquiries will eventually come in.
“For example, we have a lot of clients who now have credits with tour operators and cruise lines, and we don’t want them to forget that they have these credits,” she said. “There’s a lot of loyalty equity that can be built, in an empathetic way, by staying on top of your clients.”
MilesAhead’s Dorfman says that her team’s conversations with clients have taken a turn to a more personal level — beyond discussing travel.
“We’re spending extra time to reach out to our clients and suppliers to further build on these relationships,” she said. “When we are extremely busy with travel planning, it can be easy to forget to take that extra minute to ask how someone's grandparent is doing or how their move went.”
Loreal Shea, a luxury travel advisor with Rudi Steele Travel, Inc. in Austin, Texas, says she is continuing to market with TrueVail, which sends monthly newsletters to her clients while keeping in mind the current global situation.
For Tzell’s Magee, effective communication involves many different stakeholders, from agents to suppliers and more. She says that Tzell has set up various operational systems, including twice-daily emails; an intranet with up-to-date cancellation policies and commission protection policies; and a closed Facebook group for Tzell agents with real-time information as well as support for one another.
“We’ve done a lot of thinking about how we can give our agents — and, ultimately, their clients — the avenues and the tools they need to ask the questions that they have,” Magee said. “We’re trying to be creative and react quickly.”
Don’t neglect your mental health.Shea of Rudi Steele Travel, Inc. says that, most importantly, she is working to implement important habits for a good work/life balance.
“Right now, I have time to really take into account what makes me the best version of myself, and therefore the best agent for my clients,” she said. “Two of my daily practices include a hike with my dog and taking five to 10 minutes to write down something that I am grateful for. I try to do both activities in the morning as I find that positivity flows into a more productive day.”
Right now, I have time to really take into account what makes me the best version of myself, and therefore the best agent for my clients,
For individuals who also find a correlation between physical wellbeing and mental health, they can turn to Vacation Ready Fitness from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Launched by Amanda Bisack, owner of Travelista Travels, the YouTube channel offers high-energy dance fitness videos.
Meditation has also proven helpful for many, including Tzell’s Magee, who says that her company has partnered with Mndfl, a meditation studio that hosts virtual meditation sessions for employees.
Finally, have faith in the perseverance and power of travel.Gifted Travel Network’s McGovern strongly believes that the rebound in business will be the greatest story in the history of travel.
“The travel industry is one of the largest contributors to the global economy,” she said. “It’s the industry taking one of the biggest hits, but it’s also one that will recover quickly. This disruption isn’t going to stop people from traveling; it’s simply going to make travel more meaningful.”
McBride of TripKit is confident that once everyone is allowed to walk out their front doors again, they will be hungry for the new experiences and growth that only travel can fulfill.
“We have been forced into a momentary stillness that has allowed people around the world to reflect on what is most important: human connection, travel and growth being just a few,” McBride said.