The Monday Minute is a weekly feature at PAX dedicated to highlighting the movers, shakers, leaders and rule-breakers in Canada's travel agent community. Wanna be profiled? Wanna nominate someone? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Name: Nancy Wilson
Business: Leisure Life Travel (TravelOnly)
Where do you live? Ottawa, ON
How long have you been a travel agent?
I spent five years divided between both corporate and leisure travel 25 years ago, then took a hiatus after having three beautiful boys. I returned in 2017, starting my own business from home.
What is your specialty? Cruising, family travel and luxury travel are my specialties.
What lessons has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
The pandemic has taught me first and foremost that I am more flexible and resilient that I thought. We weren’t given any time to prepare for this, and after four weeks of solid 18+ hour days, trying to rebook, cancel, and repatriate my clients home, I thought I would have been ready to give up and walk away. However, after receiving such gratitude from my clients, and knowing that I was there to help them through this crisis, it has given me the resolve I needed to know that this is my true calling. I get so much pleasure from hearing all about my clients travels, and even though this has been a hard time financially, I have seen firsthand how resilient the travel industry is (and has always been). I went through the 9/11 crisis and thought nothing else could ever be so difficult to the industry, yet here we are. The friends I have made in this industry - we are a family. And we are there for each other, to lean on, in times of crisis. When travel comes back, it will be better, and more importantly stronger than ever before, because we are all learning lessons along the way.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
Accepting that so much of what is happening is out of my control. Not only with government travel restrictions, which have certainly been challenging, but also with how travel suppliers are handling cancellations. I’ve been able to fight with some and obtain refunds, while others I’ve had to have my clients accept Future Travel Credits as their only option. I strive to always do what is best for my client, even if what is best for them may not be the best outcome for me personally. In the end, I know they trust me for this reason and will continue to refer their friends and family to me.
What challenges, do you think, lie ahead as the travel economy gradually re-opens?
I am fearful for our entire industry - of so many hotels and tour companies that don’t have the infrastructure to keep their doors open indefinitely. I think the biggest challenge is restoring confidence, so having consumers accept the ‘new normal,’ such as excessive cleaning and wearing masks. We need to see the airlines, resorts, and especially cruise lines, have some successes so that we can remove the fear that has now been ingrained in so many of us.
Tell us about one good thing that has come out of this situation?
I had an idea from a supplier that I had done a FAM with last year, Le Boat, which departs out of Smiths Falls near my hometown. They charter houseboats for various group sizes, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity for a vacation. I decided to promote an advertisement on Facebook, with a caption as followed: "Disappointed your summer vacation plans had to be cancelled? All the cottages are booked up? With Le Boat, you can set your own itinerary, enjoy the optional bikes and kayaks, hop off at a restaurant or attraction, or just spend the day moored. All at your own pace. All right in your own backyard! Different options available. A great social distancing option for your family, or those in your bubble.’
I wasn’t expecting much of a response. I did it just to give my business page some exposure and maybe get some new likes. Not only did I get new sales, but I had at least 4-5 new inquiries every day. Even those who weren’t interested in the end said they would be in contact for future travel needs. It taught me to always look for opportunities, as they are always there. You just have to work at finding them.
What does the travel industry need to do restore consumer confidence?
I believe Canada needs to be a leader in supporting airlines and travel suppliers, who are implementing health practices to keep travellers safe. We need to see an implementation of COVID testing with more rapid responses, which will benefit travellers twofold. It will give receiving nations confidence that they can keep their country safe, while also giving Canadians the freedom to travel, and upon return, be cleared to return to work immediately versus having to quarantine for 14 days. Also important is for Canada to ease restrictions to other nations that have kept COVID well under control. Once people start travelling and return safely, this will do more than anything else to restore confidence.
What other travel trends do you think may emerge from this situation?
I think there will be an uptick in solo travel, where some who are hesitant to travel will stay behind, but the spouses will still go. For those that live to travel, that desire will never go away. I also think more meaningful travel opportunities will abound, such as volunteerism, where there is meaning and value to travel. I have chosen to support 4Ocean, who I think are doing important work, cleaning waste from our oceans and beachfronts. When the timing works out, I plan to join in on one of their public events.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling during this tough time?
I recommend they take this time to further their knowledge on products and services they sell to their clients, or explore more in a new niche. We always wish for more time to further our education, so now is the perfect time to do that. I have also been focused on upping my social media presence, as that is where I believe we need our focus for the most success in marketing our businesses.
When border restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you travelling first?
I need to hit up a beach somewhere warm - likely in the Caribbean! My first love is the ocean and the sound of the surf hitting the beach is my happiest place on earth. With a pina colada in hand!
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