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Consumers have been itching to embark on a summer beach vacation or a domestic family road trip, but they’ve been wary about planning it.
And that’s where travel advisors come in. Advisors are pivoting to meet the demand, acting quickly to prepare domestic trip recommendations and advice while making sense of the current situation. Where advisors are based also influences the suggestions they are coming up with.
Jessica Siregar, a Florida-based travel advisor for Travel Leaders of Jacksonville, has taken cues from the government to help advise her clients about where and when to travel.
I’ve always marketed 80 countries and seven continents, but good leaders and business owners need to adapt their strategy to achieve success. So that’s what I’m doing by incorporating the local and domestic stuff.
“For the rest of 2020, we see that there’s going to be road trip and national park inquiries,” she said. “Not knowing what’s going to be happening two months out is stopping me from promoting international travel.”
She recommends North Carolina and Tennessee as great road trip destinations.
“Getting out into the woods, hiking, whitewater rafting and engaging in different kinds of adventures are going to be popular after being stuck inside for so long,” Siregar said.
Her focus has also been on virtual travel. Most recently, she did a virtual river cruise on the Mississippi River with Viking and has seen great feedback for those experiences, already receiving bookings for 2022.
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In Florida, she says her focus will be promoting the wide variety of outdoor activities and resorts, recommending destinations along Route 30A down the Florida Panhandle such as Rosemary Beach and Seaside.
“It’s right on the beach, and it’s got a bit of a European village feel, so you can kind of feel like you’re in an international destination,” Siregar said.
Another domestic destination she recommends is Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, which is spread out and offers a range of on-property activities for families and couples.
Natalie Browning, a Charleston, S.C.-based advisor and owner of Insider Travel Planners, has been transparent with her clients, advising them to be cautious when booking trips further out. She’s been recommending domestic destinations first, such as national parks, dude ranches and beaches.
“I think domestic travel is going to be one of the things that people are going to do first before they go to Walt Disney World or fly to an all-inclusive resort,” she said. “The national parks are going to be huge, anything to get out in nature.”
Specifically, she recommends the Great Smokey Mountains and Niagara Falls. She’s had interest from clients who want to take trips out West, and recommends going to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
Asheville, N.C.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Hilton Head, S.C., are other destinations Browning recommends on the East Coast. She is also suggesting activities including whitewater rafting or kayaking in states such as West Virginia.
Browning has also been pushing to work with small businesses during this time.
“Travel advisors need to connect with, and help, fellow mom-and-pop companies, which we miss when advertising big places,” she said.
Beth Hill, an Oklahoma-based travel advisor and owner of Mangata Travel, is focusing her 2020 strategy on the “good old-fashioned road trip.”
She’s providing clients with all the essentials, from map resources and road snacks to road trip videos —“anything that has to do with piling in the car and going somewhere.”
Hill says she knows this won’t make her much income in the short term, but her long-term goal is to connect with clients on a deeper level.
“From a long-term perspective, I’m helping instill and helping foster the travel spirit,” Hill said.
And she recommends not just checking out national parks, but state parks and dude ranches, as well. Like her fellow advisors, Hill is recommending outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting as well as adventurous small-group tours with tour operator Backroads.
And for clients who would normally escape to Europe in the summer, she’s suggesting experiences such as staying in an all-inclusive lodge outside of Glacier National Park in Montana.
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Hill said she usually focuses her marketing efforts on talking about the international destinations she’s been to, but has never focused on sharing her domestic trips.
“I’ve always marketed 80 countries and seven continents, but good leaders and business owners need to adapt their strategy to achieve success,” she said. “So that’s what I’m doing by incorporating the local and domestic stuff.”
Her specific recommendations include Anchorage, Alaska; Big Bend National Park in Texas; Mackinac Island in Michigan; and Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Joni Wu, an independent luxury advisor at Luxe Travel, a Frosch Company, in Irvine, Calif., has canceled trips for clients who are now hesitant to rebook.
She had clients who were supposed to visit Los Cabos, but who are now are interested in going to Montage Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif. They planned to go in July, but are now looking to visit as soon as it’s safe, she says.
“People want to get out of the house and do something, but nobody is willing to commit to booking anything,” Wu said. “I’m not pushing anything at this point.”
She had another couple who were supposed to go to Hawaii but now want to travel to Napa Valley. Many of her clients are concerned about flying, as well.
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Although her initial focus was on rebooking her clients, Wu says she ended up canceling trips.
“We were all optimistic, and I wanted to help out the industry and get my clients excited again, because everyone was disappointed about canceling trips,” Wu said. “Instead of having to go through that again, I’m just telling them to wait.”
Wu said she is focusing on supporting her clients and providing any travel advice she can, given the current conditions.
“I’m being present and letting people know I’m still here and I’m happy to help with anything and provide ideas,” Wu said.
To local California clients, she recommends seeing the bioluminescent waters at the beaches in Southern California. She predicts that Hawaii will be one of the first and closest destinations people will be comfortable traveling to.
With the future of travel being unknown, Wu is focused on her clients’ safety and waiting to see how operations around the industry will change.
“As advisors, it’s important for us to know what will happen with airplanes and hotels,” she said. “How will they keep us safe? For us travel advisors, it’s going to be key to know how to advise our clients to stay safe when traveling.”
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.