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As much as we’d like to focus on the positive, we know that travel advisors are taking a beating right now. Daily life has been completely uprooted, and advisors are finding that their main function — to sell and plan travel — has been overtaken by the inevitable need to cancel or postpone trips they’ve worked so hard to put together.
In our fifth installation of our series focusing on what it’s like to be a travel advisor right now, Leslie Wahlgren, a San Diego-based advisor for Plaza Travel, shares what’s causing her stress and how she’s dealing with each day’s ups and downs, in addition to acknowledging a supplier that went above and beyond to ease her concerns. (Catch up on part one, part two, part three and part four.)
What’s been the biggest change in your day to day? The biggest change is facing the day with so much uncertainty. It’s not knowing if my clients will choose to rebook due to finances or fear. The daily new rules from the government impact information from airlines, hoteliers and suppliers, making it a constant struggle to keep the information provided to clients as accurate as possible. It's not knowing if I will still be employed at the end of the day.
What’s causing you anxiety? My anxiety has slowly progressed, but it is definitely increasing by the day, as I have started hearing of fellow advisors and suppliers who have already lost their jobs or are being asked to take up to three months off work, unpaid. I try to remind myself every day that this is temporary, and, at some point, travel will come back. Travel always comes back.
Do you have more free time? If so, how have you been filling that time? Last week, I was putting in extra hours with all the cancellations. This week, though I still have cancellations, it has dropped just a tad, allowing me to keep up-do-date with everything going on. I am also taking time to reach out to my travel industry partners and suppliers to remind them that we will make it through this time.
I also have a bit more time to do an extra yoga class or two, which is truly necessary for me these days.
What sort of support have you received from your colleagues? As an employee of Plaza Travel, we have been fortunate to have the leadership of Steve Orens. He has been a pillar of strength and inspiration to us all and provides us with daily videos discussing the new changes that we should adhere to and focus on. Currently, we’re letting our clients know we are here to assist with canceling affected trips and encouraging them to postpone their trips for the future so that they can take advantage of offers from cruise lines and land suppliers.
What percentage of your clients have canceled, versus what percentage have postponed? Sadly, I'd say more of my clients canceled entirely versus rescheduled, as most of them tend to be older. So, it would be approximately 70% canceled and 30% rebooked.
Are there any changes to the destinations of their future trips, such as opting for domestic trips instead of international? Those who have chosen to rebook have kept their original destinations as of now.
Being the people our clients count on to help them navigate their trips through these uncertain times — we are in the thick of it.
Which suppliers have gone above and beyond to work with you and your clients during this period? Destination Asia has assisted me with several trip cancellations and rebookings, making sure both my clients and I were aware of all the options, including penalties and waivers.
More importantly, I had clients traveling in Thailand and Vietnam when COVID-19 started to really get bad there (and in the U.S.). They updated me daily on government regulations, itinerary changes and even sent me pictures of activities my clients were participating in.
My clients were beyond grateful for the attention and help they received, and I am happy to report that my clients made it home safely and in good health.
Are clients panicking? Panic isn't really the word I would use to describe the sentiment my clients are expressing. Disappointment, sadness and bewilderment tend to be more accurate.
Clients often dream of their trips for years, so not being able to take it due to a situation out of their control is heartbreaking. For some, this may be the only opportunity they had to take it. That's probably the worst thing for me to see, knowing that this was their chance to live their dream.
What advice do you have to fellow advisors who may be struggling right now? I have never experienced anything like this is my 16 years in the travel industry. It’s been physically and mentally draining. Being the people our clients count on to help them navigate their trips through these uncertain times — we are in the thick of it.
However, I keep telling my colleagues that, in time, this too shall pass. And when it does, our clients will remember everything we did for them and will come back in full force. Clients will share their stories with friends and family as well, proving that travel advisors are truly invaluable.