Get Us in Your Inbox
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the way people live, travel and do business, travel agencies are devising new strategies to set a course for future growth.
“The biggest difference today, as opposed to three months ago, is that we have so many more challenges — which to us means more opportunities,” said Wendy Burk, CEO of Cadence Travel, a Virtuoso agency in La Jolla, Calif. “This is a time when we need to be agile. In order to survive this, we need to innovate, listen and respond to our independent affiliates’ ever-changing needs in an individualized way.”
Communication and PromotionFor Burk’s agency, trying times make communication and education even more crucial for advisors.
“From the beginning of this downturn, we emphasized over and over again the need to stay present, active and engaged,” she said. “We invested a great deal of time and energy in education and training, including in-depth social media training in Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to help our advisors grow their networks and increase their following,” Burk said. “While this may seem trivial, we saw it as yet another opportunity for them to strengthen their connections and form stronger bonds with their client base.”
Strengthening communication with clients is also a goal for Amy Eben, manager of the Travel Advantage Travel Leaders in Sioux Center, Iowa.
“We have increased our social media presence with daily posts,” she said. “Some posts are promoting specials, but most of them are interactive, with trivia questions or requests for client responses or even enticing photos. Our engagement level has drastically increased, and we want to be sure we’re staying in front of our clients so they think of us first when they’re comfortable traveling again.”
RELATED: 7 Instagram Strategies for Travel Advisors to Use Right Now
Geoff Millar, co-owner of Ultimate All Inclusive Travel and Ultimate Hawaii Vacations in Gilbert, Ariz., continues to use advertising to build business, but he’s redirected where the ad dollars go.
“We’ve cut back on our advertising for new clients,” he said. “But we’ve increased our advertising and marketing to our existing 8,000-client database. It’s a lot less expensive to advertise to existing clients. The cost is probably two to three times more to obtain a new client.”
Rethinking budgets and expenses is also a key tactic for Jason Block, CEO of WorldVia, a Travel Leaders Network associate agency with locations in four Western states.
“We have taken this opportunity to reduce unnecessary expenses and to extend the virtual nature of our company, reducing dependency on traditional retail real estate,” he said. “Adopting a lower-cost structure operating model gives more flexibility and allows us to respond quickly to changes in market demand.”
Specialization — or NotTarget markets and niche specialization may take on new meanings for agencies in the era of the pandemic.
“We have recently decided to shift our focus on specific types of travel and are currently working on a campaign,” said Bahar Schmidt, founder of VR Travel Agency and Eluxit Travel in Los Angeles.
According to feedback from her advisors, she identified a need for vacation packages targeted at families concerned about the health and safety of their children. As a result, the agency is planning to introduce RV vacation trips and family-friendly “glamping” excursions.
This ties in with pandemic-related demographic shifts that Schmidt is witnessing.
The trend seems to be millennials and families with children between ages 5 -12 want to travel.
“The trend seems to be millennials and families with children between ages 5 -12 want to travel,” she said. “We are definitely not seeing any inquiries for this year from travelers older than 60. Even though I read an article that cruise sales are up, I don’t see the demand in our agency as of yet, so we are definitely not focusing on cruises — and also, for now, no international travel. We have dropped advertising for international travel, theme parks and cruises. I think that will stay in place for now until the end of the year.”
Eben says that Travel Advantage Travel Leaders is looking for stability with a multipronged approach.
“We are a full-service agency that does not focus on a certain area of travel,” she said. “We plan to continue that model into the future. Especially during this time, diversity is an asset to our office. If we only did cruises or only served corporate clients, we may not recover as quickly. Our agency sales consist of leisure sales, corporate sales and group travel. All sales in these departments have been drastically reduced due to COVID-19. I believe that each travel entity will rebound at different times, so we will continue to focus on all three departments moving forward.”
For WorldVia, success lies in growing products and services when it makes sense, according to Block.
“We’re expanding our geographic areas of exposure,” he said. “Prior to COVID-19, like many agencies, we were focused on North America and Europe. We have taken decided steps to increase our offerings across multiple continents and a deeper level of offering here in America.”
Block also predicts greater viability for cruise sales.
“Some other agencies are exiting the cruise market, at least in part, which we believe is a mistake,” he said. “Despite negative headlines, we see tremendous opportunity for our company in the cruise segment over the next few years.”
RELATED: How Brick-and-Mortar Agencies Are Rethinking Reality