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Being a travel advisor right now is difficult — but imagine how much harder it is if your specialty involves destination weddings and panicked brides and grooms. And if that wasn’t enough, add to the mix that you’re a parent and must now navigate your increased workload with a new job as an elementary school teacher.
These are a few of the challenges facing Melissa Varela, the San Ramon, Calif.-based advisor and president of Modern Romance Travel. Varela tells us how she’s keeping positive and proactive in this seventh installment of our series exploring how traveler advisors are coping with the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. (Catch up on part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six.)
How are you handling your destination wedding clients? Some of our wedding couples have panicked, and some of them are calm and understanding. Clients want to know that you understand and that you are there to help them through this process. It is important to address them with your genuine interest, empathy and sincerity. We always offer to keep them in the loop and informed of any changes as they occur.
What percentage of your clients have canceled, versus what percentage have postponed?Our team has been actively striving to postpone and rebook rather than cancel. We were able to move all our March, April and May destination weddings to a later date.
Has the pandemic influenced the destinations that clients are interested in?The number of leads we are receiving weekly has gone down, but clients are still interested in beach destinations — primarily to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Are you facing any anxieties about work and your livelihood? I am trying to stay positive and proactive. I truly believe this will pass and that the travel industry is strong and resilient. Customers will be back because travel is in our DNA.
Clients realize that we have their back before, during and after travel. We are not strangers to difficult times, and we are able to handle crises.
What’s your approach to working with supplier partners right now?At times like these, it is important to be proactive with the suppliers you work with. You’ve got to be on top of all their policy changes that happen daily. I even find myself having to double-check policies because they change so fast. Most of the hoteliers we work with have given us tools, resources and updates during this crisis so we can give our clients the best options.
What’s been the biggest change in your day to day?The biggest change is trying to keep up with all of the facts and policies related to COVID-19 while homeschooling my children, ages 10 and 7. It has been quite the challenge to work from home and keep my kids entertained and up to date with their school work. This situation is unprecedented, so I am trying to go easy on myself.
How are you preparing yourself for travel’s return?I’ve been working on my long to-do list. You know that list that we all have but don’t have a chance get to? I am using some of my free time to further my professional development. I am also making education and training a priority by taking webinars or certification programs. I’m doing my best to stay informed because it’s important to stay up to date on current trends, issues and events.
What advice do you have to fellow advisors who may be struggling right now? The COVID-19 crisis has been the most challenging time in my professional career. I think it’s important to remain visible and to communicate with your current customers and current bookings. I think clients are realizing the true value of using a travel advisor during these difficult times. Clients realize that we have their back before, during and after travel. We are not strangers to difficult times, and we are able to handle crises. I am confident that there are better days ahead and that when the dust settles, travelers will be ready to explore the world again.