These are trying times for clients and travel advisors alike. Yet, despite their own fears, advisors have provided much needed support for those anxious about the current uncertainty regarding travel.
Now is truly the time to highlight the unmistakable value of travel advisors. Within the last few weeks, country borders have begun to close, airlines have canceled flights, and there’s general confusion about how to handle current and future travel plans.
Consumers who had booked with online travel agencies such as Expedia were often left stuck, spending hours waiting for airlines to answer and not knowing if they would be refunded for canceled flights.
On the other hand, travelers fortunate enough to have the support of a travel agent were able to make it home from countries that have since closed their borders — largely due to advisors’ unique access to suppliers and other industry resources.
Travel Advisors Versus OTAs
Some travel advisors are doing more than just thinking of their clients — they’re also using this opportunity to show the value an agent brings to a booking.
One such agent is Jessica Siregar, a Florida-based travel advisor for Travel Leaders of Jacksonville. She first attended to all her clients with travel plans through August, and then was able to help a friend in need. Her friend was unsuccessfully trying to cancel an upcoming trip to New Jersey that was booked on Orbitz.
Siregar began calling the Orbitz customer service lines, but couldn’t get through. However, thanks to her contacts at United Airlines, Siregar was able to get her friend’s tickets out of Orbitz’s system; cancel the flight; and receive a waiver to rebook without change fees up to Dec. 31.
“Booking with a travel advisor saves you from sitting on hold in a crisis situation like this,” Siregar said.
Siregar also had clients who were on spring break in Europe when the travel bans to Europe were announced. She immediately made some calls to see if her clients wanted to come home right away. As a result, they were able to get home with little to no issue, besides a few canceled tours in Europe, which they’ll get refunded for.
“We’re really dealing with rescheduling,” she said. “Most companies have been good about giving future travel and cruise credits.”
The Strength of Supplier-Advisor Partnerships
Indeed, the crisis has shown the value of suppler-advisor relationships.
Because of her agency's partnership with Delta Vacations and other contacts, Siregar was also able to receive $13,000 in refunds for a family who would have lost $15,000 in business class tickets.
“They’re afraid to travel into the summer, and they really don’t think they’re going to rebook within 2020,” she said. “We fought and were able to get that refund with a small penalty, which was a big win.”
Susie Chau, the Chicago-based owner of Carpe Diem Traveler, had clients traveling in Spain when the country announced its lockdown on March 16. The supplier she was working with, Charmed by Spain, was in constant communication with Chau, and took swift action to get the couple to their final destination. Charmed by Spain helped the clients adjust their itinerary as well as change drivers and hotels. One driver even welcomed the couple into their home in case they needed a place to stay.
“That made my clients feel so good in a time that could be very stressful,” Chau said. “I couldn’t even imagine if they were on their own trying to manage the uncertainties and react to such a serious turn of events. I’m very, very grateful for solid suppliers like Charmed by Spain.”
Chau also relied on her relationship with TAP Air Portugal, the airline that her clients used to travel to and from Spain. She reached out to an airline contact and received a response within half an hour.
“That is another example of the power of human relationships and those connections that advisors have to get answers quickly, put clients at ease and get them rebooked and on the road as quickly as possible,” she said.
That is another example of the power of human relationships and those connections that advisors have to get answers quickly, put clients at ease and get them rebooked and on the road as quickly as possible.
Focusing on Client Advocates
Beth Hill, the Oklahoma-based travel advisor owner of Mangata Travel, had to cancel 93 trips over a 10-day period, and has been in regular communication with her clients. Two weeks ago, she started to get questions about cancellation fees and if clients would get stuck while traveling.
She says her approach has been to update her clients with facts about the current situation, while also helping them make informed traveling decisions.
“There’s a fine line between being an alarmist and being a professional advocate that provides communication,” Hill said. “I’ve tried to walk that line and find the balance between updating and alarming. Communicate often, communicate positively and communicate proactively.”
At the moment, she is not pushing rebooking.
“People are really not excited about planning their next trip,” she said. “They are worried about their jobs, their rent, their mortgage and their food.”
Chau says it’s OK to be sad and to grieve the loss of travel.
“I think it’s important to meet people where they’re at, and right now the consensus is that people are grieving the trips they’ve had to cancel or will probably have to cancel,” she said. “And that’s sad and hard to deal with.”
As overwhelming as the current situation is to navigate, these travel advisors have found that focusing on current clients has been the best approach they could take.
“I’ve quit taking any new bookings,” Hill said. “My priority has been my existing clients and making sure that they’re taken care of. This is the time to be completely client-centric and earn client loyalty.”
Hill believes these clients — including first-time clients — will be strong advocates of her and travel advisors after this is all over.
I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten saying, ‘We’re so glad we worked with you; you’ve been professional and helpful, and thank you for caring.’ These people will come back to me because they know how hard I’ve worked for them.
“A handful of my spring break clients were referrals as opposed to my regular clients,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten saying, ‘We’re so glad we worked with you; you’ve been professional and helpful, and thank you for caring.’ These people will come back to me because they know how hard I’ve worked for them.”