While the day-to-day is uncertain with restrictions and new updates on COVID-19, nothing lasts forever. As in any crisis there is an opportunity to come back stronger than ever before, and by staying in touch with your clients and responding to their needs, you can pick up bookings more quickly in the recovery. According to Travel Weekly, “Oxford Economics says that while the world is likely sinking into a global recession that will result in a more than 10% drop in international travel, the recovery should be fast.”
Clients may be trapped in their homes with family right now, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped thinking about that bucket list trip to the Caribbean. In fact, clients may be dreaming about their most recent vacation again - that family trip to Mexico and playing in the sand sounds even better now that the closest they can get is the sandbox in the backyard.
Prepare now for a business boom when better times come.
In times of uncertainty, it’s important to look at the past too. History can be an indicator for the future, and this certainly isn’t the first crisis the travel industry has survived. From AdAge:
“But the industry has been through crises before, including the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the SARS virus and, more recently, the mosquito-born Zika virus which took a toll on Caribbean travel, says Clayton Reid, CEO of travel marketing firm MMGY Global.”
After each of those crises, the travel industry eventually returned to normalcy. With the spread of the internet and globalization, so too has come the desire to travel and see the world. People see travel as an opportunity to connect, to experience something new, and while those plans may be temporarily halted, those desires aren’t going to just disappear.
As Karan Morrow with Where 2 Next Travel says:
“While no one can travel now, the desire for travel is not gone and will come back with a vengeance when we all move about again. Post inspirational photos and virtual trips on social media and in communications to clients. When they're ready to book, they'll remember you and call you first. I think many people have learned the lesson that using an experienced travel professional is paramount!”
There’s nothing like being stuck in one place to bring on dreams of white beaches, snow-capped mountains, and scenery from anywhere but here. Your clients are probably already dreaming about an escape, and once the tide turns, you want to be ready to take advantage of those dreams and turn them into reality for your clients. According to the Wall Street Journal,
"Once the virus is under control and business normalizes, travel could rebound fast. Lodging analysts say leisure travel snaps back quickly after a downturn, and that pent up demand can lead to a sudden spike in business."
Use email marketing to stay at the front of your client's minds.
Now is a great time to leverage email marketing so your clients are primed to book when the travel industry rebounds. With nowhere to go, create a sense of wanderlust and intrigue by sharing pictures of exotic locales. You can outline the best trips you’ve done in the past, favorite adventures, or best locations to get away from it all. Your clients will love the distraction, and they’ll start thinking about what trips are on their bucket list!
Danielle Belyeu with Catching the Sun Travel recommends turning your emails into a break for clients:
"Send out a ‘mental vacations’ email with some pictures and trip plans so that your clients can take a mental break from the whole situation and perhaps start thinking about future travel plans with you too!"
Offer shorter, more affordable getaways.
Each industry will recover differently, and having a variety of getaways available will encourage your clients to book trips. Offering shorter and more affordable trips helps your clients get out for a vacation quicker, and on a budget they may be more worried about than in the past.
Consider showcasing weekend getaway packages. After all the time pent up at home, parents may want to take a short trip sans kids to recover. Families may want to take a quick fun trip together to replace some of the doldrums from staying at home (plus, a trip can be a reward for well-behaved children!). By offering nearby locations you can reduce travel time and expense, while still encouraging clients to take that vacation.
Keep health-conscious travelers in mind.
You can also offer more travel options in response to ongoing health concerns. Rather than staying at a resort packed with other families, your clients might want to take a trip back to nature where they’re surrounded by open spaces. Instead of flying on a packed airplane, consider offering a rental car for a road trip so clients won’t be fighting for elbow space with strangers. As MMGY Global explains,
“In 2015, 33% of American travelers reported taking a road trip within the past 12 months. By 2019, this percentage had increased to 53%, with 63% of travelers indicating an intention to take this form of trip in the year ahead. This trend could actually accelerate when travelers are concerned about crowds and confined spaces. Adventure travel, or trips where people get back to nature (ex. hiking, biking, exploring, etc.) and away from crowds and confined spaces, may well experience growth in times like this.”
By offering shorter, health-conscious getaways, you can quickly increase your number of bookings. A shorter trip can rebuild your client’s confidence in travel, and in your ability to get them safely there and back. That success builds up to more trips for the future, and as confidence grows your clients will start thinking about the next big trip to take.
Caroline Joyner with Not Just Travel also recommends taking advantage of your operators’ flexible terms today:
"I would be finding a reason to call all other clients even if they don’t have something booked. I would tell them that if they are thinking about 2021 now is a great time to book as all the tour operators are offering amazing flexible terms."
Be flexible with refunds and exchanges.
As we’ve all learned recently, things can change quickly. You can encourage peace of mind and bookings by being more flexible with refunds and exchanges. Especially early-on clients may be more hesitant to book trips because they’re worried if they have to cancel or exchange at the last minute they’ll be out of luck. You can encourage them to book by being more flexible with your policies on refunds and exchanges. This is also a great time to remind clients about the importance of travel insurance, and reassure them with your experience and knowledge.
A number of tour operators and cruise lines are also offering great deals and very flexible refund policies right now. You can take advantage of those current amazing offers to book future trips for your clients.
Harry Roscoe with Travel with Harry recommends proactively rebooking cancelled trips at a discount:
"When I have groups that look like they may be in jeopardy over the next six months to 12 months, I book a new group reservation for a year and a half or more out. This gives me the ability to just move my passengers into the new group instead of canceling because the cruise lines are giving 125% credits."
Share your experience with handling the unexpected.
Take this time to reassure your clients that you can solve any problems they may encounter on a trip. Recent travel restrictions have highlighted troubles that can arise when you need to return home at the last minute.
If you’ve ever had to get a client home suddenly and unexpectedly, whether due to an evacuation order, natural disaster, or sudden illness, share that story. Travel agents have seen it all, and you can add a little levity by sharing a fun story of getting a client out of a pickle too!
Knowing that you can get them home in case of the unexpected is reassuring, and clients will know it’s not the first time you’ve handled this kind of situation. That extra safety net can help give clients the confidence to go ahead and book that trip they’ve been dreaming of.
Susan Moore with Moore Memorable Travel says it’s important now, more than ever, just to check in and be a source of comfort:
"For [clients] who have upcoming trips, keep them informed on their options. For others, just check in to see how they are doing during this difficult time."
While now may not be the best time to travel, that’s unlikely to be true for a long time. The travel industry has weathered more than one crisis in the past, and this surely won’t be the last. Indications are good that the travel industry will rebound quickly, and you want to be ready to book when it does. Instead of focusing on what can’t be done, look ahead to get clients thinking about their next escape. You can help break up that stay-at-home monotony by sharing amazing vacation pictures, and letting them know just how flexible travel plans can be. With safety at the front of everyone’s mind, your clients know that you’re the professional they need.
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