COVID-19 leaves travel agencies and small businesses everywhere feeling strapped -- it's a high hurdle, but it's one the entire small business community is jumping together. For more advice from other small business owners on staying adaptive and coming out of this strange time on top, subscribe to LACRM's new newsletter just for small business community tips!
At this point, all corners of the global economy and world at large are affected by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, but the travel industry is taking a particularly hard hit -- travel agents were likely some of the first to notice business dropping, and travel bans and shelter-in-place orders across the planet certainly aren't opening the gates for new business.
That doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom for travel, though; agents just need to get a bit more creative to stay on top of their business and on their clients' minds! Because LACRM works with a good deal of travel agents, we surveyed a handful of our customers in the field to hear straight from the community how agents are handling this unprecedented time. Here's what they had to say:
Many travel agents hit on one of the most important things any business can do for its clients: just be there for them. "In our industry, people have numerous options to book travel on their own, but the advantage of using a travel agent is the personal service and expertise," Kim Chesser from The Mouse Experts points out. Travel agents have a great deal of room to be more attentive and compassionate toward any client crises than just an impersonal booking site, so take advantage of that!
Susan Moore from Moore Memorable Travel advises calling not only those with finalized plans, but all clients.
Not Just Travel's Caroline Joyner adds: "I would mainly be calling, firstly, all clients who have a [trip] booked this year regularly, and then I would be finding a reason to call all other clients even if they don’t have something booked." Caroline also mentioned doing travel clinics on Facebook Live, where anyone (not just her clients) can tap into her expertise and ask travel-related questions.
What you're doing here is boosting their customer experience -- it's awful that the world calls for their trip to cancel, but delivering the news with empathy and attention will ensure you stay in their memory.
Pacific Dive Vacations' Jan Stogner shares a silver lining: "I know that as a one-person shop, I have many things that get pushed aside that I have the time to do now." Travel agents work hard to juggle everything involved in clients' trips, and the industry finally has a moment to catch its breath!
Different agents shared what, specifically, they're focused on.
Jan Stogner said she's developing ad campaigns, figuring out new forms for internal use, and updating her website; Susan Moore told us she's looking into online educational opportunities for different suppliers, cruises, and locations her clients might be interested in.
Along those lines, keeping track of all the details that come from this chapter will make sure you're prepped in the long run -- Heather from Bliss Travel Experiences comments that agents should "keep very good records on what is canceling, status of refunds/credits on each piece of the trip, and reminders now for the future to follow up with those clients so that they can rebook their trips."
"I'm keeping an eye on my calendar for upcoming payments that are due and people that are scheduled to depart," adds The Travel Gals' Linda O'Brien. "Just to make sure that payments for future travel (that isn't cancelled -- yet) aren't overlooked in the commotion and that, if people are scheduled to depart in the next week or two, their travel gets cancelled to take advantage of cancellation promotions." These are unusual times, and with that comes unusual details; staying on top of those will make sure things go smoothly in the future.
"The desire for travel is not gone and will come back with a vengeance when we all move about again," says Where 2 Travel Next's Karan Morrow. Clients may not want to book their usual spring or summer getaway for 2020, but that doesn't mean you can't get clients on the books (or at least excited about) future vacations.
For more specific tips on how to start planning for 2021 travel, read our blog post here.
Harry Roscoe from Travel With Harry offers one specific example for planning for the future: “When I have groups that look like they may be in jeopardy over the next six 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.
For example, I have a group going to the Mediterranean in October. I have booked the same cruise as a group in May as a backup. We have up to 30 days prior to the cruise to cancel in October. If we cancel, the cruise line is going to give us 125% future cruise credit. It almost benefits my passengers if this gets canceled and we rebook it on the May sailing.” Moves like this make sure your clients have something to look forward to once the dust settles, and it guarantees you'll still be in touch!
Getting lots of clients to secure future trips might not always be easy, but you can still have them dreaming for that time.
Caroline Joyner is doing something similar: "I would be publishing lots of 'escapism' blogs about destinations to inspire people and also daily inspirational Facebook posts to keep my audience hot."
Similar to reaching out to your clients, putting out "escapist" content keeps you on their mind and reminds them that you're there whenever they're ready to plan their next dream vacation.
In an ideal world, travel agents everywhere would still have their calendars and notes filled with clients' trip dates and details. But even when that's not the case, the ever-resilient travel industry has lots of options for staying in front of clients and making their business even better! Stay compassionate and creative, and the rest will fall into place.
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