By: Ann Ruppenstein
From the CDC updating its travel advice to the ongoing vaccine rollout and news of cruise lines resuming operations, the future is starting to look brighter each day for the travel industry.
During this pivotal time, Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin, Jennifer Gaskell of Pink Palm Travel and industry veteran Geraldine Ree, who recently penned a book geared at helping advisors rebound, share some strategies for success going forward.
Over the course of the pandemic, Caitlin Lajeunesse of Vacations by Caitlin with Independent by Flight Centre made it a priority to remain connected with clients and future clients through Instagram and newsletters.
“It has been important to keep travel dreams alive and I wanted the message to be clear, I am riding out this storm and will be here on the other side,” Lajeunesse, who specializes in luxury beach vacations, tells Travel Courier. “I want to make sure I am front of mind when people are ready to start thinking about their next tropical getaway, and also that I am up to the minute informed on the ever-changing landscape of travel.”
And that time has started to come, as she recently secured her 40th room booking for fall and winter travel.
Over the last month, I have noticed a huge shift. The pent-up demand is real and many of my clients are ready to book. I have received the same response from many ‘I just really need something on the calendar to look forward to.’ We all understand that the lead-up, anticipation excitement of an upcoming vacation is part of the overall experience. For many, just having something to look forward to, even if it’s an entire year away is so important. Everyone will have their own comfort level when it comes to traveling again, and I absolutely respect that. I like to use the line, when your time is right I am here to help.
Notably, Vacations by Caitlin also saw a big surge in inquiries from people who previously booked online.
“Some even hold future travel credits from cancelled vacations but are looking to book with a trusted travel professional now,” she adds.
Lajeunesse is primarily booking Air Canada Vacations with their CareFlex Plus coverage and Transat Holidays with Option Flex Extra coverage from September 2021 forward.
“I applaud our tour operator partners for understanding what both travel advisors and travellers need to book with peace of mind right now,” she says. “My message is clear; book now, travel later.”
Although it’s been an incredibly difficult year, she points out that there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for the industry.
“My hope is the Government and Travel Industry can start to work together on a reopening plan for the future,” she says. “This year has shed light on the importance of booking with a trusted travel professional. We will come out of this stronger than ever.”
Although there is still some caution about booking travel since 2021 got off to a rocky start for the travel industry in Canada, Jennifer Gaskell of Pink Palm Travel by TPI notes that clients are now booking into 2022 and 2023.
“I think 2022 will be a strong rebound year — or what is becoming known as ‘revenge travel.’ It’s been my strategy moving forward to heavily promote booking now and travelling later,” says Gaskell, who provides luxury travel design with a focus on Disney, Sandals, Beaches and cruises. “This is where I am putting all of my marketing efforts and seeing success — clients want to lock in today’s prices and be able to travel as soon as restrictions lift.”
Among her clientele, Gaskell says vaccination efforts are the top reason they are optimistic for travel in 2022.
Restrictions placed by the Canadian government for quarantining is an obstacle at the moment, and until they lift, we won’t see as much international movement. International travel will gain traction again, and when it does, it’s my prediction that travellers will be taking multiple getaways to make up for missed time.
As a newer agent, she says Pink Palm Travel has had luck via word of mouth, social media and online networking. Gaskell will also be working on a more fulsome YouTube strategy as a means to provide consistent travel updates as things pick up.
“Communication is key as the pandemic has proven to be a fluid situation,” she says. “Clients are interested about COVID protocols in place in other destinations, and what they look like upon return to Canada. They also want flexible cancellation/rebooking policies so that they have full confidence that their investment is protected. Major suppliers, such as Sandals, are offering built in travel protection as an added incentive for travellers to book now. Clients are relieved to have a trusted agent to do the research for them.”
With over two decades of experience with Expedia Cruises and Princess Cruises, travel industry veteran Geraldine Ree has written a book dedicated to helping travel advisors come back stronger.
Describing Flying Colours: The Travel Advisor’s Guide to Breakthrough, as “a manual for experienced advisors to find another level in their business,” Ree gives advisors a roadmap on how to come back, while outlining practical tools on how to achieve those goals.
“I firmly believe that travel is best served in the capable hands of a travel professional. While I’ve known that for a long time, I believe working with an advisor is going to be even more crucial in the future,” says Ree. “Advisors are the narrow point in the hourglass between highly customized client needs, and a wide array of travel components. Not only are we adding health and safety protocols to every customer must have list, but each supplier also has its own nuanced version of addressing those needs. For the first time, we have both consumers and suppliers equally dependent on the travel advisor to navigate the nuances.”
For Travel Courier, Ree shared a few tips for advisors as they navigate the road to recovery:
1. Do what you love. This is the time to decide what you love most about the travel business and give it your all. Prepare for the comeback as if that is your only goal. Focus on becoming extraordinary and known for what you love.
2. Work with people you love. Stop trying to be all things to all people. This is the time to be indispensable to the clients who matter most. Start small. Even if it’s 10 at a time. You have time now. Let them know that you are THEIR travel advisor.
3. Look after yourself. This comeback is going to be unstoppable! We need every advisor to feel strong, healthy, and prepared. Work on your well-being, balance, your healthy habits on how you approach your role.
Even before the pandemic, Ree says the overwhelming whirlwind of the role held advisors back from growing a steady stream of high-value clients. Looking to the future, Ree predicts that the industry will shift to support and value the relationship between travel advisors and consumers.
“It is my deepest hope that the book will help advisors prepare for the recovery and build back up stronger, and better than before,” she says.