Travel insurance, excursions, car rentals, room upgrades…
There’s a long list of commissionable add-ons that travel advisors can utilize to not only enhance a client’s itinerary, but to also positively impact their bottom line.
At least that was the case, once upon a time, when agents could book travel freely and send clients on meaningful, worry-free adventures.
Travel, these days, has never been more restricted as governments amp up efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
From grounded flights to hotel quarantine measures, business is bogged down by one hurdle after another, it seems.
But what if travel advisors could take one of those hurdles and, in due time, turn it into a revenue opportunity?
Weeks before Ottawa tightened Canada’s travel restrictions, a pre-departure testing order was announced, making it mandatory for international arrivals to show a negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours, prior to boarding a flight.
This requirement, in Canada, remains indefinite. But even as people get vaccinated, there’s a belief that COVID-19 testing will continue to play a significant role in travel’s future.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), for one, has long called on governments to invest in standardized testing methods, for both inbound and outbound travellers, to safely resume travel.
The vaccine rollout isn’t going to happen overnight and we still don’t know, for sure, if being vaccinated prevents you from spreading COVID-19 to someone else.
COVID testing, as a requirement for international travel, may be around for a while. And if travel agents are going to be equipping clients with PCR tests (the gold standard in many jurisdictions), they might as well make some money doing it.
Adding PCR tests to itineraries
At least this is how a company based in the United Kingdom, called Chronomics, sees it.
Chronomics has been processing PCR tests for clients in Europe and is one of the only providers whose product allows self-administered, at-home/at-hotel, saliva-based testing.
Founded in 2017, the company got its start in epigenetics (the study of how lifestyle and environments can modify DNA) until it realized its methods worked for COVID-19 testing as well.
Lately, Chronomics has been focusing on building travel trade partnerships in Canada, recognizing that advisors play an important role in helping people safely explore the world.
“In our efforts working with government on opening up travel responsibly, we very quickly realized that the travel trade is an integral part of helping travellers who must travel to do so safely, similarly to the importance of travel insurance in every itinerary,” Dr. Tom Stubbs, CEO of Chronomics, said in a release last month.
As such, Chronomics has developed tools for travel agents to sell PCR tests as a commissionable add-on.
“As the industry has been suffering so much to find revenue sources, there’s no reason that testing can’t be one, just like insurance,” says Tim Morgan, who represents the trade on Chronomics' advisory board. “A PCR test should be, by way of necessity, just another component that’s needed on an itinerary.”
As a U.K. government-authorized provider of PCR tests, Chronomics currently sells PCR tests to travellers arriving in and departing from the United Kingdom.
But the company is also in discussions with other firms in major markets to assist the trade in having a network of trusted partners for their clients.
This was a timely service, last November, when the U.K. revealed plans to use testing as a means of reducing quarantine times for international arrivals – an approach that may, one day, serve as a model for other countries when the time is right to ease restrictions.
But blips should be expected these days – British, Irish and U.K. residents arriving in England, for example, must now quarantine in a hotel for ten days if arriving from a high-risk COVID country, making shortened isolation periods less applicable to some.
Non-U.K residents may also be refused entry, as per updated regulations designed to slow the spread of COVID variants.
But Chronomics’ remains, and it’s methods are worth highlighting as it paints a picture of what post-pandemic travel, and future revenue, may look like when restrictions are lifted.
How does it work?
A Chronomics PCR test can be sold online, prior to travel, and also functions as an add-on screen via booking platforms, “making it easy for advisors to add a test to their clients’ itinerary,” Morgan explains.
When a U.K.-bound traveller from Canada arrives in London, for example, and they are in a position to shorten their quarantine with a negative PCR test, a Chronomics test kit is conveniently delivered to their hotel.
These saliva-based tests are easy – you spit in a tube and, with the help of front desk, send everything back to a lab for results, which are processed between 24 and 36 hours.
These tests, notably, use the RT-PCR method and a protocol similar to the ones defined by the U.S Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The service works the same way when, for instance, it’s time for a client to return to Canada and show a negative 72-hour PCR test to their airline prior to boarding.
That second test kit would also be delivered to the hotel, with results being posted within 72 hours to the Chronomics app, which travellers can show their carriers when it’s time to fly home.
Of course, outside of the Chronomics program, travellers heading to a country that requires a negative COVID-19 on entry (like the U.K.) would have to obtain their own negative test from a Canadian partner, in advance.
“The U.K. is at the forefront of the PCR testing movement,” Morgan says, noting how Canada and the U.S. are behind when it comes to having a set list of authorized testing partners.
Fair compensation for agents
A Chronomics PCR test costs 120 pounds (shipping costs included) and the commission is confidential, but Morgan says it sits in the “low double digits.”
When Canada’s pre-departure testing rule was unveiled, hotels and resorts in destinations quickly began selling PCR tests so guests could meet their fly-home requirements.
It’s unlikely that agents saw any compensation from those sales.
And so, if anything, the Chronomics model recognizes PCR testing, supported by travel agents, as an integral part of future trip planning.
“It’s important the industry gets compensated fairly,” says Morgan. “If a travel advisor has knowledge on PCR testing, they should be compensated for having that knowledge.”
A “major step” in restarting travel
While adapting standardized protocols remains a challenge, PCR testing, as an itinerary add-on, is one of several ways industries are evolving to get people travelling safely again, Morgan explains.
“Testing will remain with us for many months and agencies and advisors need to include testing knowledge and product in their toolkit to help their clients feel comfortable about traveling again," he says.
Also: “If people feel like they’re not seeing progress, I can tell you that it’s coming,” Morgan adds.
Visual ways of tracking COVID-19 test and vaccination results, through apps, for instance, are being worked on behind the scenes as we speak, he says.
“You’ll start to see standards that airlines, tour operators and cruise lines will implement where they have test and vaccination results readily available and shareable, as needed, for people to travel,” Morgan says.
“That is a major step in travel's restart."
For more on Chronomics, click here.
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