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When this is all over and the world starts traveling once more, we hope that no one ever asks what a travel advisor does again. The COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) crisis has put advisors to the test, and they’ve done exceptionally well rising to the occasion and demonstrating their value — so well, in fact, that many are receiving referrals from clients looking to help their frustrated friends who booked online.
Lynda Turley, the Saratoga, Calif.-based advisor and owner of Turley Travel Group, and a member of the TravelAge West Agent Advisory Board, shares an example of this — and asks certain parts of the travel industry to step up and be a better partner.
This interview is the sixth installment of our series exploring how travel advisors are coping with the impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses. (Catch up on part one, part two, part three, part four and part five.)
How has your daily approach to work changed in the last month?Rules changing hourly has become the new norm, and I’m up at all hours, seven days a week, to help clients.
As an independent contractor, I don’t have anyone who can cover for me in emergencies like this. I’m just thankful that I’m here at my desk. I was invited on a trip to Antarctica and was going to be gone during this time period, but something in the back of my mind said not to go — that it would be too busy this time of year. So, I’m glad I’m home, or I would have had to fly back earlier this month to assist clients, as we all know that ship Wi-Fi access isn’t always dependable.
In the travel industry, we’ve always had to be flexible and open to changes, but this is like nothing I’ve experienced before in 30 years of business.
Are any suppliers going above and beyond to help you respond to this crisis? My Virtuoso DMCs have been helping me reschedule, cancel and offer future travel credit with 100% of funds moving forward. So far, all my preferred vendors have offered a full future credit and have been amazingly supportive and compassionate. Some of the luxury cruise lines are doing a better job than the others.
Silversea Cruises is now protecting air booked independently, and they are protecting commission on both old and new cruises. Let’s hope the others follow suit. Some vendors are worth supporting in this crisis.
Yesterday, a new referral said to me, 'I don’t know why I was afraid to call you. You are so helpful and treat me like your friend.' Yes — that’s exactly what I do.
Have any companies disappointed you?The ones that have not stepped up are the insurance companies and the airlines. Most air carriers are keeping to the one year from original issue date for travel changes. Unfortunately, our experienced travelers book their air 10 months in advance, so there isn’t an opportunity for them to go again. So far, I’ve only seen Delta Air Lines step up and offer travel past the issue date.
So, are some of your clients canceling instead of postponing their travel?It’s about 75% postpone and 25% cancel. The tour operators and cruise lines are more lenient if you postpone rather than cancel. I am telling all my clients that the one constant my colleagues and I have discovered is that the clients who have patiently waited for their trips to be canceled by airlines, cruise lines, tour operators, etc., are getting the most rewards in terms of future travel credits or refunds.
Unfortunately, though, postponement means no income coming in for months, and my best clients would have taken another trip later this year anyway. So, while it looks good on paper, it’s deluding future travel, and my income is postponed and lessened.
What’s helping you get through this right now?I’m so glad I have my colleagues to discuss everything. There is a core of fellow advisors who I trust, and we email and chat at least once a day, keeping each other updated on what’s going on. One of the things we’ve discussed is how this situation has helped us figure out which clients we’re keeping when this is all over, and which ones we’ll move to another advisor. Some of the clients with smaller trips are taking more time and energy than our luxury clients.
How do you feel about the funds the government intends to use for travel advisors?I submitted my name for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan last week. Honestly, I’m not too optimistic of ever receiving funds, but I put my company on the list.
What are some of the proactive measures you’ve underwent to take care of clients?Once most of the dust settled with confirming cancellations, I focused on engaging clients. I’m going to email all my future clients who have vacations planned with me a personalized message. And as most clients are in self-isolation, I’ve been trying to maintain their excitement about the world of travel.
I use Approach Guides, a travel guide company, quite a bit for clients just before their trip, or during that long pause from deposit to travel date. The company offers articles, podcasts and Vimeo clips from around the world that we can access from its library and customize and send to clients. I’m using the guides now to keep clients engaged.
I’ll send this sea otter cam out to some later this week. It depends on the client, since this cam is local for me. What’s more fun than watching otters? Nothing.
And I’ll send this great piece about museums around the world that can be toured virtually.
Any other updates regarding clients for the future?I’ve received some referrals during this time as some folks can’t reach a hotel, a tour company or other supplier. They’ve booked a trip online, or even directly through a reputable travel company, but are receiving no assistance, so they ask me for help.
Yesterday, a new referral said to me, “I don’t know why I was afraid to call you. You are so helpful and treat me like your friend.” Yes — that’s exactly what I do.