This week Travel Courier checks in with Vanessa Martinez and Shawn Ward of Unforgettable Escapes who have been busy repatriating clients from Venezuela as well as reuniting a couple who had their wedding cancelled due to the pandemic.
Ward and Martinez at the 4th annual Spotlight Awards
Tell us a bit about the work you did repatriating clients and assisting a last minute elopement?
My clients were stranded on Margarita Island, Venezuela. They left Canada in January to spend the winter at their apartments. They were due to return in April, but only recently returned on September 24th. The country closed their borders and air space on March 12th and it still has not reopened. The national airline started to offer repatriation flights for any foreign nationals or permanent residents of another country wanting to return home. I am still being contacted by the travel agency in Venezuela to assist with other repatriations. I have assisted with repatriating Americans, Italians and Spaniards. We still have a few more Canadians we will be repatriating, as soon as more flights open up.
Per the elopement, a colleague of mine contacted me regarding a client who had their wedding in Canada cancelled due to the pandemic and needed help to arrange an elopement. The bride was not permitted entry to Canada unless they were married. We specialize in Destination Weddings in Jamaica and reached out to our business partner in Jamaica Ophellia McKnight, owner of the Destination Collective and president of the Jamaica Wedding Professionals Association. Within hours everything was arranged and within two weeks the couple was married and reunited.
The JTB’s Angella Bennett with Martinez, who was recognized as a Top 50 Agent for sales to Jamaica in 2019
“Being a first generation Canadian and spending my summers in South America, I was born with travel in my blood. Being exposed to different cultures, languages, food and music, I understand the nuances of travel and the need for authentic experiences. It is no surprise that it has come full circle for me to work with clients to create unforgettable travel experiences.“
How’s business and bookings right now?
We are working with our suppliers to move existing bookings to a future date, as well as working with existing groups that have decided to continue with their travel plans this fall. We continue to work with the authorized travel agency in Venezuela on repatriations of foreign nationals. Group bookings for late 2021 and 2022 are increasing as a result of our marketing efforts with our Marketing Director, Konnie Keyworth of Keyworth Media. We remain optimistic that our industry will bounce back.
There’s been a lot of talk about the domestic market recovering first. Are you doing anything to grow business this way?
We have been reminding our local clients that Canada is also an amazing destination and they can explore their own backyard. We have been booking domestic travel and we have also been exploring our own backyard, as well as neighbouring provinces. We have also been showcasing our pictures and promoting travel within Canada via our social media.
Over the past six months, it seems like more people have seen the value of using a travel agent firsthand. Do you agree? How can advisors get this message out?
Yes, there has definitely been a shift with clients wanting to work with travel advisors specializing the type of travel they are wanting to book. Now more than ever, people are realizing the value of having someone on the other end of the phone when they have travel related issues. 2020 has shown how important it is to have a professional who has the appropriate connections and is plugged in with correct and updated information for the destinations, airlines and the rules within our own country as it relates to the pandemic.
For our repatriated clients, many of whom have not worked with a travel agent before, having an overview of the entire situation was completely necessary for the positive outcome. The barriers they faced had become insurmountable because of the multiple moving parts that were needed.
As Rose Caruso, the daughter of one of our repatriated clients said:
“Can’t say enough about Vanessa! In a challenging environment due to COVID, my father of 87 years of age, along with other elderly Canadians, was stranded on Margarita Island. Vanessa was our only hope and life line to get our parents home safely, but with no end in sight of airspace opening up or any repatriation flights from Canada, our parents would have to be stranded until 2021. Vanessa was proactive in trying to organize and plan different flight options such as a private jet company and repatriation flights. We greatly appreciated the communication throughout the planning process and keeping us organized with clear schedules, local contacts, all of the necessary documents and COVID tests that our parents needed on a weekly basis.
Their journey home from Margarita island would be a four-day trek. Not an easy task to take on, but Vanessa’s passion and perseverance got our parents home safely. The hotels were all wonderful transportation was coordinated perfectly with all of the flights, ferry, buses, taxis and private transfers. She made it happen and I am forever grateful and appreciative of everything she did for my father and his friends. If it wasn’t for Vanessa being such a compassionate, caring and passionate person/travel agent, I don’t think I would have ever seen my father alive again. With short of meds and underlining health issues, time was of essence for my dad. On September 24, my father along with his friends arrived to Canada safely. Vanessa saved my dad’s life and I am forever grateful. Highly recommend Vanessa for being first: a wonderful human being who cares about her clients like her own family and second: for being a professional travel agent who goes above and beyond the role of a travel agent.”
As travel advisors, we need to communicate the value we can offer our clients and potential clients in designing an unforgettable travel experience.
Do you have any strategies to get through the next few months?
We will continue to remain optimistic! We will also stay updated on the changes globally and the requirements for each country and consistently update our clients with any information that impacts their travel. We participate in webinars and virtual conferences to remain aware of the consistent changes because the situation is still very fluid. We are strategizing with our preferred partners on exclusive offers for future business. We remain present on social media, so our clients know that we are here for them.
They’re home! Meeting with repatriated clients.
Do you have anything to add?
We have spent the last five years concentrating on cementing our business relationships with our travel partners to provide the most comprehensive and customer focused experiences for our clients. We will continue to work on our clients’ behalf to fulfill their travel dreams and support their special celebrations in destination.