Travel agents have left a grim 2020 behind and entered 2021 determined to better their lot in a variety of ways, including vowing not to shortchange themselves when it comes to earnings and brushing up on language skills.
Three Toronto-area travel agents made it clear that they’ve made adjustments following a year that saw international travel go into a tailspin followed by a tough start to this year.
“My (New Year’s) resolution after a year of cancellations, commission clawbacks and insurance rigmarole was to earn my worth,” says Roger Kershaw of Kershaw Custom Travel Inc. in Toronto. “To those ends, I reviewed my service fee schedule and increased it for the first time in 30 years.
“And I added a 15% of full trip cost as a cancellation fee for trips that are cancelled out of a simple change of mind, rather than forced by government or supplier actions. Of course that 15% is not always imposed (one group cancelled eight staterooms on a cruise — I only charged 15% of 1 stateroom) but it does provide some recovery for my expertise and accessibility.
“I’ve also resolved to get prepaid commissions (cruises notably) into a separate trust account and not spend them until the trip is travelled. That way commission clawbacks can be accommodated without financial stress.”
Bonnie Eccles of Toronto’s Moreno Travel says she doesn’t feel confident about booking clients until there’s been major progress in vaccinations.
“I foresee bookings starting in the fall and increasing towards Christmas for 2022,” Eccles states.
Eccles says she hasn’t “managed too badly” over the past 11 months, considering all the turmoil the travel industry has had to contend with. She’s kept busy through webinars, studying Spanish and exercising.
“And Zoom is our new Happy Hour,” she adds.
Rudolph Nareen of Astor Travels, also in Toronto, says past challenges helped him prepare for the latest crisis to plague the travel industry.
“I learned in early March 2020 that things would get worse,” he reports. “I had a booking with the Intercontinental hotel in Athens for April 3 prior to boarding an Azamara cruise on April 4, 2020. I was informed by the hotel in early March that they had cancelled the reservation due to restrictions and at the end of March Azamara informed me that they cancelled the sailing and would offer a 25% more in value that will expire in December 2021. No mention of a refund.
“I knew then based on past experience, such as 9/11, that when suppliers such as cruise companies and airlines suspend services but still allow agents to book travel that refunds will not be easy to receive.
“Astor Travels decided not to entertain clients’ requests on travel outside of Canada but to advise and educate clients of the consequences they will face by booking a trip and having it cancelled due to government restrictions, etc. Astor knows that we are responsible to solve the client’s problems, such as refunds, which is not financially feasible but adds stress to the employees and clients.”
That prompted Astor to switch to local developments and products.
When it comes to future travel, Nareen wants suppliers to make full refunds or credits on future bookings a firm policy, something he says will make customers confident about booking future travel and “enhancing cash flow to the operation of the suppliers.
“The pandemic continues to have a global effect on travelling, cruise companies and airlines have entered into many arrangements through acquisitions, mergers and financing to stay afloat. While they (cruise companies) may have to dock for a few months more before giving the public the confidence that they are ready, I am optimistic that traveling will be more extensive from September onwards.”
Meanwhile, Kershaw is showing more appreciation for some of life’s simple pleasures and less appreciation for those clients who seem indifferent to needlessly burdening travel agents with the likes of pointless demands and requests.
“I’ve really enjoyed sleeping in, reading, relaxing and spending time with family to the extent allowed by pandemic restrictions,” he says.
Kershaw adds that “problem clients” — like others — aren’t now travelling. But he warns that when travel resumes those who have proven to be difficult and demanding in the past shouldn’t expect him to roll out the red carpet for them.
“They may find their travel advisor of choice is no longer available to them,” Kershaw adds. “I resolve to enjoy the business I love when it comes back.”