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 email@example.com!
Name: Teodor Mihail
Business: Unravel World Travel
Where do you live? Richmond Hill, ON
How long have you been a travel agent? Since 2009. In 2013, I decided to pursue my dream of having my own business and started my own travel agency.
What is your specialty? While I can book trips across the entire world and seven seas, my specialties are Europe and all-inclusive vacations to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
What lessons has the pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
The pandemic has been a great opportunity for travel agents to shine. Many travellers realized, or will eventually realize, the importance of booking through a travel agent. My clients told me that I was a lifesaver to them, while others who didn’t book through me expressed a desperate need for help, which I could not give. I eventually realized that the many clients who book through me do not book just because they want a travel agent’s help. They book because of me - my extensive travel experience and the peace of mind they know I, myself, offer by simply calling and letting me take care of the “dirty work." The lack of business after the closing of the borders has been an opportunity for me to focus on getting this message out there, as well as improve my customer service and sales skills for when clients will be reaching out to me in the future.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
Other than the fact that almost no business was coming in, the biggest challenge was explaining to clients that refunds are not being processed, and that it’s the policy of the suppliers and not mine. Prior to the pandemic, when a flight, tour or cruise was cancelled, the clients had the option for a full refund. However, this is a force majeure situation in travel terms, which means exceptions will apply and policies will be adjusted accordingly. This is why it’s all about future travel credits. I agree that it’s not fair towards the client, however, a travel agent cannot be “a supplier’s boss” and override rules.
What challenges, do you think, lie ahead as the travel economy gradually reopens?
The next challenges would be keeping up with border openings and closures, considering that these can change anytime. As clients reach out to me for my experience, they are now asking if travel is possible, and where to. I have been attending non-stop webinars and virtual events, as well as reading articles in order to keep up with border openings so that I can deliver the value of my services with these constant changes.
Tell us about one good thing that has come out of this situation.
After travel agents showed their value, I have been contacted by quite a few clients who in the past would either “play travel agent” (send me a quote from online and ask me to beat it) or simply didn’t see a difference in booking with me. They asked if travel was possible, any quarantine restrictions, and what would happen in case the flight got cancelled. While keeping current with the news, I also had bookings on several airlines which kept canceling flights or delaying operations, and it was a headache rebooking my clients. As a result, not only did I provide the information, but I also knew which airlines to recommend. My clients saw the value and booked with me, and some became loyal and have already booked a second trip through me.
What changes are you making to your business?
I am rebranding my business altogether, from name to logo to the way I advertise. I realized that the message of my travel experience and great relationships with clients, which is a huge differentiating factor for many travellers out there, did not have enough presence in the industry. I also have clients who book through me because they’re friends, but always “do their homework” of spending hours searching for reviews rather than taking my advice about which resorts are the best (even though I say I’ve been there). This is again because I was not getting my word out there based on experience but rather “support small business” or “I know where to send you for a great vacation”. By advertising my experience, both on social media as well as through my sales presentations, I am confident that I will reach the market of travellers that do business with someone because of their quality of work and ability to form great relationships.
What does the travel industry need to do to restore consumer confidence?
The number one issue is to eliminate quarantines across the world, especially in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as this is why travel is not emerging. Regarding consumer confidence, the travel industry has truly done an amazing job at going as contactless as possible. This is also seen in the safety protocols introduced by airlines, hotels and many destinations worldwide. I saw this for myself when I travelled to Mexico and Europe throughout the pandemic. Other than that, it would be smart for all suppliers, including hotels, to send emails to their subscribers regarding the safety protocols. It will take more than a few emails to have some consumers open it and realize that travel is truly safe. Also, the COVID-19 insurance that most Canadian tour operators are offering is an amazing asset which every travel supplier should be offering until a vaccine is found.
What other travel trends do you think will emerge from this situation?
Other than the protocols airlines and resorts have taken and some destinations requiring a negative COVID-19 test, I can predict a few new trends. My prediction is, in order to eliminate all the ever-changing rules by destination or airline, one will need to have been vaccinated and have the information in their passport. For those who are against the vaccine, a negative COVID-19 test would be required, at least for a few years. I can also foresee more hotels, resorts and cruise lines coming up with a digital key to be used on mobile devices, which can easily be sent by text or email, just like boarding passes. And for companies or countries where a voucher is required (very common in Europe, where without a voucher, the hotel will not be paid from the supplier), I can see them coming up with electronic ways of scanning the voucher through a mobile device to go completely paperless.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling right now?
My advice would be to take this time to really work on your business and find new ways to market, find your niche, and reach your ideal market. It is also a great time to revise your policies, and work on coming up with documentation on clarifying that the conditions keep changing, and getting the client to sign that they agree to that and on a future travel credit in case of cancellation. I’ve been using documentation since June, and have never had a client argue on a refund on a booking made from June onwards. This is the perfect time to release new business strategies and policies, because once the quarantine gets lifted, phones will be ringing like crazy.
When travel restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you travelling first?
I feel like I can just go around the world. The first place would be either Egypt or somewhere in South America, in order to use my future travel credit from my cancelled tour in April with On The Go Tours. I was happy with a credit, not only to support my industry, but also because they offered a 110% credit.
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