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According to Hope Smith, CEO of Born to Travel in Montecito, Calif., every day is another battle when navigating the foggy maze that is the reemerging travel industry.
From dealing with travel insurance providers that are refusing to honor specific cancellations to deciphering ambiguous international quarantine rules, there’s a lot that clients want to know — much of which travel advisors still have to learn themselves.
And many advisors, such as Smith, are also facing pressure to stay a step ahead in order to protect their business and to figure out how to best serve clients, particularly those who are ready to travel now.
Indeed, a growing number of advisors are reporting that their clients are ready and willing to start planning travel. Terrah Van Meter, a travel advisor with Legacy Travel in Dallas, for example, is booking trips for clients who want to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and honeymoons, or take advantage of existing good deals.
Zachary Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, has new bookings that depart as early as June and stretch through the fall and winter of 2020/2021.
Still, Smith adds, there is so much about traveling in the new normal that remains unknown, making it difficult to start dusting off passports just yet.
"I don't want to sound doom and gloom," she said. "I'm excited for travel. I'm excited to get going and for people getting out there if they choose to do that."
RELATED: Traveling in the New Normal: The Role of the Advisor Regarding Client Safety and Responsibility
So, what are clients asking about, and how are advisors responding? We asked several advisors to find out how they’re best serving clients who want to travel now.
Common Client Questions"The most common question that everyone should be asking is, 'Once I am able to travel, will I need to quarantine in some sort of way for an amount of time?'" said Ryan Doncsecz, groups manager of VIP Vacations in Allentown, Penn. "We are hearing several clients ask this question specifically about Jamaica, St. Lucia and many of the Caribbean destinations."
The most common question that all people should be asking is, 'Once I am able to travel, will I need to quarantine in some sort of way for an amount of time?'
First and foremost, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still discouraging all unessential travel. That doesn't mean U.S. citizens cannot travel abroad, but if they do, there may be quarantine rules in effect for the nations they visit. The problem is that there is no one-stop shop place to look for the most updated information.
At this point, the best way to stay informed is to search each destination's specific guidelines. As of May 15, foreign nationals are banned from entering the U.S. if they have been to China, Iran and most European countries in the last two weeks. Other countries have travel restrictions for U.S. citizens, so checking each individual country's current policies is your first line of defense.
And then there is the question about being able to return home, should clients decide to travel. Will the U.S. close its borders? Or, will the country implement a lockdown while clients are abroad?
"While the closing border is highly unlikely, they (the U.S. and whichever country clients are in) would still allow travelers to get on the next flight out, and I'm here for clients 110% the entire time," said Legacy Travel’s Van Meter.
With numerous air travel unknowns, the predictions for immediate travel keep pointing to the rise of the great American road trip. Many advisors are getting questions from their clients on what to expect of road trips.
"One client has a home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and he doesn't want to fly," Smith said. "He had me pinpoint where along the road he can stop before he gets to Jackson Hole."
Smith has plotted a route that includes stops at hotels, such as the luxurious Amangiri in Utah, and high-end rentals near Zion National Park. Her client also asked about who might be available to give private tours within Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park.
RELATED: Travel Advisors Are Helping Clients Dream of Domestic Destinations
Still, the biggest client questions concern the future of international travel, and what that landscape will look like.
"Clients hoping to vacation soon seem to be wondering what sort of experiences are still 'on' at various destinations," Doncsecz said.
For clients taking an all-inclusive vacation, they are curious about the swim-up bars, buffets and activities. Others are wondering about social distancing efforts, and whether that will be the norm.
Several key resort brands and hoteliers are explaining their enhanced efforts for cleanliness, which is great, but advisors need more information on experiences to help future consumers know what is available to them when they travel.
"Several key resort brands and hoteliers are explaining their enhanced efforts for cleanliness, which is great, but advisors need more information on experiences to help future consumers know what is available to them when they travel," Doncsecz said.
Mexico has been vocal about what the immediate hotel experience will look like, seeing as many properties are reopening June 1. Hoteliers — such as Palace Resorts, Grupo Posadas, Pueblo Bonito Hotels and Resorts and El Cid Resorts — have been clear that the experience will look differently for now.
RELATED: Rodrigo Esponda Explains Los Cabos' Five-Phase Reopening Plan
Buffets will be replaced with “grab and go” options; dining rooms and pool decks will operate at 50% capacity; some swim-up bars will be closed; and guestrooms will be outfitted with optional face masks, hand sanitizer and more. Room service will be left outside the rooms, among other changes.
On Protecting Your BusinessWhile advisors try to brace themselves for potential travel disasters, the closing of the entire world was well beyond the scope of their imaginations. It’s understandable that advisors may feel hesitation when booking future travel, for fear that a spike in cases can happen again — especially as there are no uniform reopening rules across states and countries.
Relationships with suppliers, and due diligence on the end of advisors to follow up individually with destinations and hotels, are the best lines of defense. Likewise, it's crucial to stress the need for travel insurance.
Van Meter, for one, is including travel insurance on all her quotes. She is also calling hotels directly before suggesting them to clients in order to understand how their reopening processes are going and what their protocols are for sanitizing.
"The only way we can protect ourselves as travel advisors is by using partners we trust, and by offering cancel for any reason insurances for all new bookings,” Doncsecz said. “Use a partner that you have faith in can make it through this crisis."
Rabinor of Journey Mexico says that the current situation reminds him of “a similar, albeit less severe, storm back in 2009 with the swine flu (H1N1 virus) that shutdown Mexico for approximately six months.”
"Through our experience, we learned important lessons about cash reserves, liquidity, cash flow, communications, supplier management and other crisis management strategies and tactics,” he said.
These strategies, Rabinor says, include geographic diversification, countercyclical opportunities, human resource management and more. Journey Mexico has updated its booking conditions for all new bookings. It has also waived all nonrefundable deposits on new bookings whenever possible. With 14 days notice, the operator will transfer all funds to a future credit valid for at least a year, honoring the same pricing, as well.
"We, like all of the travel industry, have had to completely update,” Rabinor said. “We have new terms and conditions for reposts, payments, cancellations and changes that afford maximum flexibility and minimize risk."
Smith is wary of travel for the rest of 2020. She says that while she wouldn't outright decline someone who wanted to travel this year, she would make sure that they fully understand the scope of repercussions.
"Europe doesn't want us,” she said. “We can't go there. Until that changes, all we can do is talk about it and keep the conversation going. But I don't think it's wise for [clients] to invest money now. That's where that relationship comes in with your clients, DMCs and tour operators. There are going to be a lot of changes in regard to suppliers working with advisors and how deposits are going to be made, how commission will be paid and how refunds will be handled."
However, Smith is confident about 2021.
”I think travel will definitely will come back," she said. "Travel is resilient. People want to do it. People want to go to new places. The minute you say the word 'travel,' people smile."
But to get there, Smith says, advisors and their clients have to wait and be patient.