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Name: Sharon Loppie
Where do you live? Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
How long have you been a travel advisor? Since 2013
What is your specialty? Destination weddings, groups and group cruises
What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
One of the most important lessons is to always sell insurance and to get a form signed for every trip that states whether insurance was offered and either purchased or declined. Always protect yourself by getting credit card authorization forms signed or authorization to charge credit cards in writing. I have certainly realized patience pays off and I have learned how to navigate communication between my clients and suppliers during this time.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
Definitely one of the biggest challenges I had during this pandemic was dealing with the constant changing of policies imposed by the suppliers. It has been very challenging to advise my clients what their options are from a supplier and then to have to go back to them only to advise them differently later on. This happened several times. As agents, this absolutely made us look unreliable and untrustworthy.
What challenges lie ahead as the travel economy gradually re-opens?
Unfortunately, as the travel economy gradually reopens, I feel prices will go up due to COVID-19 and social distancing measures on flights, planes and cruise ships. Clients will not be happy about the increases. It will be a challenge reassuring our clients of the appropriate steps they'll need to take to protect their health throughout every step of their vacation. The biggest challenge will be convincing clients that it is actually safe to travel again.
What does the travel industry need to do to restore consumer confidence?
Due to COVID-19, many tour operators have implemented new booking, change and cancellation policies, which gives consumers more options and peace of mind. This includes reduced deposits, an option to reschedule travel for any time within 12 months, or change travel dates, hotels or destinations for no charge up to 24 hours before departure. However, many of these policies are only in place for a very small time frame. In order to restore consumer confidence, these new policies need to be in place for a good year or two. Also, to restore consumer confidence in travel, the airlines and cruises will need to have more stringent screening procedures, enhanced and improved sanitation procedures, as well as social distancing protocols. Having online check-in, hand sanitizing stations and contactless payments at resorts, hotels, airports etc will all be needed.
What other travel trends do you think may emerge from this situation?
I think many people will consider travelling within their own province and throughout their own countries by car in the beginning. Many will also consider travelling to destinations on direct flights. On a positive note, I think more people will reach out to travel agents for advice and to book their next vacation. More people will also purchase travel insurance.
What's one good thing that has come out of this situation?
Despite the many clients who were extremely disappointed that their vacation had to be cancelled (and many were not happy with the Future Travel Voucher presented to them), I am so thankful to the many who reached out to me, who wished me well, who said they were thinking of me during this difficult time, and encouraged me. That, to me, is a winning moment. People now realize the value of working with a travel agent.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling during this tough time?
As hard as it can be for most of us to not focus on the loss of business, our valuable lost time and our lost commissions, I encourage you all to focus on your amazing clients who you will be retaining. Focus on all your clients who thanked you for assisting them through this crisis. Focus on your clients who have checked in on you, sent you an encouraging email, a text or a message. They will remember that you took care of them and helped them navigate through all of this, and they will think of you as soon as they are ready to travel. You will be busier than ever when this passes and it is safe to travel again.
When border restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you travelling first?
My favourite island, of course - Jamaica!
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