Ready for the future

Looking on the bright side

The New Year ushered in many challenges, but opportunities are also emerging for travel advisors and tour operators alike

ANN RUPPENSTEIN

After a tumultuous start to the New Year, Travel Courier chats with the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, TravelBrands and G Adventures about how they’re navigating past the challenges to take advantage of the opportunities that this year brings. 

Although government restrictions are the biggest hurdle to overcome in the short term, Nathalie Tanious, COO of TravelBrands, firmly believes there are still opportunities to take advantage of during this challenging time.

“While people are discouraged from travelling abroad, we need to shift their mindset and promote other types of travel,” Tanious tells Travel Courier. “Canadian road trips, vacations within Canada. We also need to build consumer confidence in booking future travel. Teaching the traveller about new perks such as free cancellation, changing your vacation plans or savings is something our team is continuously working on.”

With the rollout of the vaccine underway and a better understanding of COVID-19 overall, Tanious is hopeful for the recovery of the travel industry in Canada and beyond.

“Our team is hopeful that the rollout of the vaccine will slowly start to return travel trends back to 2019 figures,” she says. “We also believe that people are longing to see the world again, connect with loved ones abroad and experience everything they love about travel. The future demand to travel keeps us hopeful and goal oriented.”

Although the further restrictions on travel are not at all what they had hoped for, she says TravelBrands understands and respects that the government is acting in the best interest to keep everyone safe.

“Short-term, I know travel agents and airlines are working tirelessly to get people the resources to return home to Canada,” Tanious says. “Our industry and the people in it are resilient. I know we will overcome these new requirements and bounce back stronger — like we always do.”

"People want trustworthy information about their travel plans, where they can go, how to be prepared, etc. Travel advisors are the best resource for that."

Over the last 10 months, TravelBrands has researched and forecasted all types of travel trends, and has been working towards meeting the needs of the ever-evolving traveller.

“Based on our findings, our team has been working to prepare on all fronts. Updating technology, launching new programs, creating new processes. We’ve created great itineraries for Canadian getaways,” she says. “Our new Long Stays program allows travellers to truly immerse themselves in places all over the world and even work remotely. We’ve partnered with a new cruise line, Atlas Ocean Voyages, to bring even more travel experiences for our travellers. Plus, we continue to offer customization on any getaway a client wants… COVID-19 has taught us to appreciate what we have, the ability to travel being one of them.”

Regardless of the obstacles that may continue to arise, Tanious sees travel advisors playing a big role in the recovery of the industry.

“People want trustworthy information about their travel plans, where they can go, how to be prepared, etc. Travel advisors are the best resource for that,” she says. “We already see people redeeming their future travel vouchers using travel advisors. That is a trend that will only increase. There is a secure feeling knowing a professional has helped with your travel plans and will have your back should anything happen. TravelBrands has always loved travel agents and I believe the rest of the world will really appreciate their value moving forward.”

For us, the biggest challenge to overcome is government restrictions in the short term. While people are discouraged from travelling abroad, we need to shift their mindset and promote other types of travel. Canadian road trips, vacations within Canada. We also need to build consumer confidence in booking future travel. Teaching the traveller about new perks such as free cancellation, changing your vacation plans or saving is something our team is continuously working on.

Nathalie Tanious

TravelBrands

With no advance warning, Judith Coates, the founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, says travel agents found out about the new government regulations on testing requirements at the same time as the public — at 4:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

“The Government’s decision to implement this requirement has really blind-sided our industry,” she says. “For the next four days, our suppliers were closed for the holidays, but meanwhile, clients with upcoming travel were calling in a panic asking for more information, which we did not have for them. Travel advisors in general are expecting a wave of frantic calls from clients in destination who have learned they don’t have their test results in time for boarding.”

However, while navigating through the ongoing challenges that independent advisors face, which also includes commission recalls, Coates decided to re-invent her business model and create a plan for charging service fees going forward amidst all the commotion.

“I have to admit, I was really haphazard with [charging service fees] prior to the pandemic,” she says. “Travellers realize now, more than ever, the value of using a travel advisor, and the fees that I’m now charging going forward will help my clients to see that I work on their behalf, not on the travel supplier’s behalf.”

"Travellers realize now, more than ever, the value of using a travel advisor, and the fees that I’m now charging, going forward, will help my clients to see that I work on their behalf, not on the travel supplier’s behalf."

Another eye-opening experience came through discovering which suppliers truly supported travel advisors over the past 10 months.

“Some suppliers showed that they did not value the partnership of travel advisors by changing policies without any warning, communicating to our clients before sending us any communication, and by cutting back on their support staff when we needed them most,” she says. “Those suppliers have fallen to the bottom of the ‘go to’ list. There were other travel suppliers, though, that provided excellent customer service, prompt documentation, Travel Vouchers and refunds, some even implementing up front protected commissions. Those are the suppliers who will be remembered for their exceptional support and will have my loyalty.”

Although the situation remains fluid, Coates is now looking forward with a sense of optimism.

“I’m hopeful because I have many clients who can’t wait to travel when things open up. I’m hopeful because when travel does open, my business will be booming again. I’m hopeful because I love to travel and I’ve had some time to think about what trips will be my priority once travel opens up again,” she says. “I’ve been keeping in touch with my clients on a regular basis to make sure they’re doing okay, and I’ve focused my marketing on dreaming ahead vacations that would normally be booked a year in advance.”

Some suppliers showed that they did not value the partnership of travel advisors by changing policies without any warning, communicating to our clients before sending us any communication, and by cutting back on their support staff when we needed them most. Those suppliers have fallen to the bottom of the ‘go to’ list. There were other travel suppliers, though, that provided excellent customer service, prompt documentation, Travel Vouchers and refunds, some even implementing up front protected commissions. Those are the suppliers who will be remembered for their exceptional support and will have my loyalty.

Judith Coates

Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors

David Green, VP Commercial, G Adventures, believes there are many reasons for those in the travel industry to look forward with optimism again.

“The vaccine news in November gave us a huge boost of confidence in terms of understanding the level of pent-up demand that is out there for international travel,” Green tells Travel Courier. “What was even more encouraging is the number of new bookings, compared to rebookings. This indicates that not only are people ready to have travel plans to look forward to, but also that they are looking at a better way to travel.”

In a recent survey with their consumers, 77% of respondents also pointed out that what is most important to them when they travel again is that their money benefits local people.

“We’re optimistic not just about a return of travel, but a shift towards travel that gives back,” he says, underscoring the importance of community tourism for the recovery of the travel industry.

While the year didn’t start off smoothly, he says travel advisors can still remain positive.

“The current and evolving entry requirements into Canada won’t help in terms of selling travel in the next couple of months, but agents can’t give up hope — they need to be playing the long game,” he says. “We know travel will return, and when it does agents want to make sure their customers have their dream trip booked to the destination they want to go to, on the date they wish to travel.”

In a recent survey we undertook with consumers, 77% said what is most important to them when they ‘retravel’ is that their money benefits local people, so we’re optimistic not just about a return of travel, but a shift towards travel that gives back.

Green suggests agents spend time now focusing on booking travellers with credits on file so when the demand returns, they are free to concentrate on new bookings.

“We can see people are booking and they will continue to do so. If agents aren’t tapping into that pent-up demand now, there’s a good chance they will lose those sales,” he adds. “This is also an ideal time for them to be upskilling, completing supplier training, and learning about better ways to travel so we can make a difference on the other side of this pandemic. Customers affected through the pandemic will realize the importance that a travel professional plays in their time of need, so there’s a massive opportunity for travel advisors to position themselves as a necessity moving forward.”

Green emphasizes that G Adventures is of the viewpoint that travel advisors will be needed more than ever before as travel resumes.

“They will be essential to the recovery of the travel industry. They have a direct line to the customer and are trusted sources of information at a time when customer confidence has taken a huge knock,” he says. “It’s the role of the agent to educate themselves and have the latest information about what suppliers are offering in terms of increased health and safety measures, what testing requirements are needed where, and to keep up to speed on the fluid re-entry requirements into Canada.”

David Green_Gadventures_PIC

It’s our view that travel advisors will be needed more than ever before – they will be essential to the recovery of the travel industry. They have a direct line to the customer and are trusted sources of information at a time when customer confidence has taken a huge knock. It’s the role of the agent to educate themselves and have the latest information about what suppliers are offering in terms of increased health and safety measures, what testing requirements are needed where, and to keep up to speed on the fluid re-entry requirements into Canada.

David Green

G Adventures





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