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Travel advisors are resilient. That’s one of the key takeaways of our current series, which explores how advisors have been affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). (Catch up on part one and part two.)
In our third installment, we hear from Hope Smith, the travel advisor owner of Sierra Madre, Calif.-based Born to Travel and a member of the TravelAge West Agent Advisory Board. Smith gives us her perspective on the COVID-19 situation, in addition to explaining how it’s affected her as a world traveler and an independent contractor.
Tell us a little about your last few weeks while the coronavirus situation escalated.I was in travel mode as I was leaving for India. I had called my clients who had upcoming trips and made sure everyone’s questions had been answered. And then the world changed — even for me. India closed its borders. I had a few clients who were traveling to Europe, and, of course, cancellations started to pile up. So, what has changed most for me is that I have never canceled trips like I’ve had to do this past week.
Are you feeling anxious with your increased free time? No, I do not panic or get anxious because it causes me too much stress. I’m taking it day by day as I always have, and I try to get out and walk more to clear my head and be outdoors.
I think this crisis is much harder for an agency owner who has staff and overhead to pay and certainly does not want to have to fire people. But sometimes that’s necessary.
As a travel agent who has been through 9/11 and other events, I guarantee demand will come back, so be ready.
Are you considering any changes to your business model? This situation shows that travel advisors do not charge enough fees for our time. We don’t get enough credit for the amount of emails and phone calls we make on behalf of our clients to get things right. Going forward, I need to charge a higher fee.
Have you had more postponements or cancellations? It’s about 50-50. I still have bookings for October and November equal in trip amounts to those that canceled in these current months. But, as of today, I have not had any new requests for travel, so I have no idea what I will be booking for later in the year. Hopefully, the cancellations that I had for Europe will return to Europe — which I think will happen, since the suppliers kept their money.
What’s it been like working with your supplier partners?All the suppliers I booked with have been sympathetic to this situation and understand what is best for the client. Even, at times, the airlines are being flexible with refunds. Also, when clients were at 100% penalty, Mountain Lodges of Peru was willing to transfer their money to a future hike.
How are your clients doing?My clients are not panicking at all. They are seasoned travelers and have been through this before. I called every one of my clients, went over cancellations and discussed what would be the best alternative for them. They all understood, so there was no need to panic.
What words of advice do you have for fellow advisors who may be struggling right now?I know these are uncertain times, and we don’t know how quickly people will return to travel. But it’s important for all advisors to have money put away for emergencies like this. I know it’s not easy, but it does relieve stress if you know you have money put aside.