The following originally appeared in a blog post entitled "CORONA VIRUS VS TRAVEL AGENTS" on Time2Travel, a travel agency specializing in island destinations and cruises. Have an open letter you want to share with Canada's travel industry? Email us your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a self-employed, home-based travel agent, my company Time2Travel has certainly taken a ‘beating,’ to say the least, during this most difficult time due to the recent COVID-19 crisis. In an industry where we depend 100 per cent on commissions with NO salary being paid, home-based travel agents are on the verge of loosing everything they have worked for this past year.
Specializing in a niche industry, such as destination weddings, birthday groups, etc., requires a lot of pre-planning. It's typically a year or more in advance before we get to work with our clients. We work for clients throughout the year, making phone calls, sending emails and messages, getting them all booked. We sometimes work for a year, with no income, on a single group.
When a client's trip is done, it's the ‘icing on the top’ for us agents. When clients return, we FINALLY get paid our commission for the work we have done for a year, sometimes longer.
The impact of COVID-19 has on us agents is tremendous. We have groups cancelling every day. Every group we have worked on (plus all individual bookings), with ZERO coming back to us as commission.
So where does that leave us?
We are literally sinking, loosing all the hard-earned money we were depending on receiving or have already forecasted for.
It’s a nightmare for us.
We still have to service our clients in the midst of all of this.
So we continue working, KNOWING we are not getting paid for any of our time.
We are on hold for hours upon hours, days upon days, trying to get through to suppliers for questions and cancellations. Two, three, four days of no pay and working way more than a regular eight-hour day.
Remember how important it is to book with a travel agent, because we are here for our clients, day in and day out, to get clients through this time.
Financially, it's over for most of us this year. Next year we can hope for better. But who can go a year without their expected pay?
Mentally, it's draining us. It's exhausting and taking a toll on our families. So people need to know the impact this has on us home-based travel agents.
Thankfully, I have wonderful clients who are cheering me on, supporting me and sending encouraging messages despite the fact they have had to postpone their travel.
Thankfully, I have an amazing network of travel agent friends supporting each other to get us through these long non-paid work days.
However, the truth is, travel agents all over the country are suffering and the only way we will survive is if the government initiates some form of temporary relief. We are sinking here and literally watching our hard-earned money go down the drain.
Here are my tips for other travel agents during this difficult time:
- Check updates from tour operators daily. Email the official, most current notice sent to you (or that is posted by the tour operator) to your client so that they can see this policy for themselves.
- Multitask during wait times by using multiple phone lines if you can. I've been on hold with one supplier on my land line while being on hold with another regarding another booking on my cell phone.
- Utilize your host agency's private Facebook page if they have one. Agents have been helping and supporting each other by posting up-to-date policies and the responses they receive from supplies.
- Offer assistance to others agents if you are on hold with a supplier. I once posted: "I'M IN THE QUEUE WITH TRANSAT" on our agent page and I had two or three agents send me questions for that particular supplier. I could then post the answers our page.
- Enable an automatic response on your email that lets your clients know their email has been received and due to the high volume of emails, you will be responding in order of departure date. They will then know their email was received. This will hopefully eliminate the same person emailing over and over.
By servicing our clients and not hiding from them, they are certainly going to remember the hands-on customer service we provided. They will return when things go back to normal.
Remember: the future travel voucher offered by tour operators is a great way to protect commission if the client takes advantage and then rebooks a trip in the future with you. Then finally - finally - the agent will get paid the due commission.
This too shall pass. Stay safe and ISOLATE.
Sharon Loppie is the owner of Time2Travel based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
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