As travel starts to ramp back up, Ensemble Travel Group advisors focus on How To Sell and Market Travel in a Post-Pandemic World in the latest edition of the Restart Sessions Video Series.
Moderated by Ensemble’s Executive Director of Business Development & Training Ron Bentley, the panel featured three panelists representing a small agency, host agency, and a Canadian travel group.
- Flemming Friisdahl, President and Founder of The Travel Agent Next Door (Canada)
- Cindy McCabe, Owner of Bethany Travel
- Tara Minson, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Communications for InteleTravel
Session highlights include:
The Pent-Up Demand is Real
“Whatever you want to call it – revenge buying, whiplash, it’s real and it’s a tidal wave. Consumers have the disposable income from months of staying at home, they have the time, and they just want to go somewhere – anywhere after being trapped for most of 2020,” said Minson. “They want to go now and the experiences they are booking are often more premium type vacations.”
McCabe concurred adding that most of her clients are still booking a lot of Caribbean, Mexico, and Disney for near-term travel - "but we are also seeing that clients are booking more than one trip because they can see that if they don’t book now, they won’t be able to get what they want. So our longer-term bookings are including places such as Alaska, Hawaii, as well as river and ocean cruises for well into 2023.”
Friisdahl added that they are seeing an increase in spending on average of 40-50 per cent on bookings as clients are upgrading their experience. “It’s good for everyone – clients are getting a really premium dream vacation experience and suppliers and advisors are making more money, which everyone really needs to make up for lost income this past year.”
Canada is Looking to the US as Guide for Restart of Travel
As Canada has lagged behind the US with its vaccine rollout and with borders still closed and quarantine restrictions still in place, Friisdahl added that advisors in Canada are looking at where the US is at in terms of the resumption of travel with the anticipation that they will be there in 4-5 months. He adds that for Canadians who aren’t ready to book yet will likely find themselves unable to get spots on cruises or even in hotels in popular destinations as the capacity is more limited post-COVID and people are booking whatever they can get.
He added that they are at about 86 per cent of bookings for 2022.
Travel Advisors Wear Even More Hats Post COVID-19
As travel has changed post COVID-19, so, too, have the demands on travel advisors.
“There is so much more that advisors need to know about now from government policies to testing and quarantine requirements in hundreds of destinations,” said Minson. “It’s been a baptism by fire, and I really credit advisors and our partners for stepping up to meet the new demands. At InteleTravel, we have really relied on our partners – who did an amazing job of creating entire portals with resources and information. We also partnered with a medical organization that provides home testing kits that advisors can provide for their clients to use at home. The industry really came together in this crisis to provide communication and education.”
“I became the test case for travel post COVID,” added McCabe. “I started traveling again in October 2020 and traveled monthly on my own using miles or free nights that I had previously not been able to use. But it was important for me to know firsthand what the experience was in order to guide my clients on what to expect. I then shared all of that on social media, which ended up bringing in new business. For some of my clients, it may not be the right time for them to travel but it was important for me to have that experience to let them know that we are still here and will be ready to help them when they are ready.”
Friisdaal adds that they have accessed many resources that are available or provided by Ensemble for members to use such as Sherpa, a guide to providing travel identification requirements. “We’re also launching with another company that can provide the right COVID testing based on where the client is from and where they are going.”
What are obstacles to booking travel
“Some agents – and even suppliers - are apprehensive to market right now. I personally think it’s a mistake not to be marketing and selling right now because I think it’s so important to get out in front of the clients. We’ve been marketing since January and it’s paying off – literally. In June, we did 70% of the business we did in June 2019 – which was our best year ever,” said Friisdahl.
Minson added that the biggest obstacle they are seeing is that clients confused and overwhelmed.
“And that is where the advisor comes in. They are really able to help guide their clients on what’s open and how to do the trip that they’ve been dreaming about whether it’s now, or in 3-6 months," said Minson.
“We Aren’t Order Takers”
“We have become pseudo therapists. I have spent more time on the phone with clients to reassure them,” says McCabe. “The biggest change is that we aren’t order takers and just making bookings – we really need to guide them on what’s best for them. I am doing more research than ever before to see what’s actually happening at that property or destination. I also feel like we’ve been able to upsell a lot to ensure that the client has a great experience. And clients are actually listening. We also have clients who we haven’t heard from in years because they started booking directly – but no more. They now realize they want someone who is there for them in case something happens. Ironically, COVID-19 has actually been great for our business as people are lining up and making appointments to make sure they get the trip they want.”
Services Fees – Yes….and No
While all agreed that a travel advisor’s time is valuable and that it is necessary to be compensated for their services, the question of service fees is always more nuanced.
“For advisors who have been around and have years of experience, their time is valuable and service fees make total sense,” said Minson. “But for younger advisors who are looking to build up their knowledge and develop a client base, consider the research you are doing for a client as part of your education and know that it will be useful and valuable to building up your expertise and growing your business.”
Friisdahl adds that one of the results of the pandemic has not only been that the role of professional travel advisors has been elevated, but that it has also helped weed out those who didn’t have the same level of education, training, and experience.
“The people who have stayed are the industry die-hards who are committed and who love this business like nothing else and who know that travel will come back and will be ready to best serve the public on something that is so important – spending someone’s disposable income, their 2-3 weeks of precious vacation time and their time with their family," said Friisdahl.
Tips on Restarting Your Business
“At the end of the day, we are in a people business and relationships are critical to that,” says Friisdahl. “I would encourage all advisors to call their clients and check in with them. Find out how they have been holding up and stay connected with them even if they aren’t ready to book or travel yet. If you don’t, they may think you have closed up shop.”
“Always be optimistic and treat people with respect, kindness. It’s important to make every client feel important whether they are booking a three-night cruise or an epic journey,” adds McCabe.
And, finally, Minson adds encourages advisors to be consummate students and to embrace change as this industry is always evolving and changing, "but it always comes together."
Previous Restart Sessions video sessions have included topics on Restarting Travel to Europe; Restart of Romance Travel; Restart of Cruising and Sustainable/Responsible Travel.
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