Travel agent. Travel designer. Travel consultant. Travel advisor.
Over the years, the job title “travel agent” has changed to better reflect how an advisor’s role goes far beyond booking a simple travel transaction.
And in a world turned upside down by the pandemic, the position continues to evolve with even more responsibilities and validation from clients.
The pandemic has impacted and changed the role of the travel advisor — probably forever — notes Ian Elliott, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, TravelOnly.
“No longer are we just ‘servicing’ a file but we have become trusted experts to our clients on how to travel safely,” Elliott tells Travel Courier. “Many of us now have revised our waivers and terms and conditions to clearly spell out what will happen in force majeure situations so that our clients are aware of what will happen and as advisors we won’t be left scrambling to figure out how we will manage a file like that in the future.”
From a pure financial perspective, he points out that the pandemic highlighted the inequities in the industry regarding commission payments, use of future travel vouchers and refunds.
“Many of us are now working with our preferred suppliers to ensure we are protected in the future,” he says. “Refunds, commission recalls and payments need to be reviewed to ensure that our businesses will survive another pandemic or natural disaster situation.”
When it comes to future bookings, he predicts travellers will expect travel advisors to provide even more detailed advice on the safety of travel.
“Obviously this is critically important for those travelling during the pandemic but I believe it will continue long after,” he says. “I also believe travellers will have a new-found respect for what an expert travel advisor does throughout the booking process, including how they can help out in a crisis. I also think that this is why many travel advisors will feel comfortable charging service fees since there is enormous value in having an expert on your side when booking travel.”
Meanwhile, Darci Murray, Director of Marketing and Growth Strategy at Personal Travel Management, points out that the travellers of today and tomorrow will continue to put a lot of expectations on travel advisors.
“Travellers want: safety, security, risk awareness, confidence, knowledge, expertise, understanding, insurance — so, so many insurance questions — someone on their side, reassurance, details, up-to-date information,” Murray tells Travel Courier. “They want to be sure all the t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted so they are covered in case of travel changes, meticulous comprehension — they simply want someone to make clear sense out of the abundance of travel related news out there.”
Although travel advisors have always provided inclusive, seamless service, Murray’s colleague Rhonda Dashevsky believes there has never been a more important time for consumers to use a professional travel advisor than in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“There are so many questions about what’s open, what’s safe, as well as the ever-changing policies on rebooking, cancellations, etc. We know how to guide our clients and to provide them with information so they can make decisions that are best for them,” Dashevsky, a travel specialist at Personal Travel Management, a member of Ensemble Travel Group, tells Travel Courier. “We think that their demands and expectations will remain the same as we have always tried to provide a seamless experience but there will be a great need for them and a deeper appreciation for the services professional advisors provide.”
For example, with the drastic reductions in flight schedules, travel advisors are going to need to be quite skilled to find a more direct flights at a decent price.
“We have been quite spoiled by being able to drop everything and just pick a cheap flight for a quick getaway — that is going to be more difficult going forward,” she says. “Currently things can change while you are in the air so having someone on your side is even more valuable. Flights will continue to be cancelled and changed and an advisor is on top of these things.”
But Dashevsky points out that the reasons for working with an advisor go far beyond having someone in your corner when things go wrong.
“We also have access to suppliers that clients will not find online, as well as off-the-beaten-path destinations,” she adds. “We make it easier to travel within a bubble. We know which suppliers provide smaller group travel.”
Another challenge has been and continues to be working on future bookings while travel shaming is taking place.
“One of the things people will need to realize is that everyone is wanting to travel so when things open up, those who booked earlier will be the lucky ones with those who are waiting, possibly being left without flights or accommodations,” she says. “I feel that the industry as a whole has stepped up to ensure that protocols are in place for people to ensure their safety. There needs to be more and clearer testing regulations so that the world can open up again.”
When travel resumes, Flemming Friisdahl, founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, thinks travel advisors will be in a much better position to demonstrate their worth and value.
“I believe consumers will want to know more about the destination and about safety — as well as what happens if another pandemic hits. Can they get home and should they get insurance to help protect them? I believe agents are now in a better position to show the value of travel insurance after what happened last March and spring — and why comprehensive travel insurance is a must for your trip and that credit card coverage just does not do the trick,” Friisdahl tells Travel Courier. “Many consumers got burned and let’s hope they remember this in the coming years.”
Since travelling will be more complicated, he believes smart consumers will turn to travel agents to help them navigate their vacations when the time comes. However, he finds it concerning that not all agents across the country are properly trained.
“I very much hope that consumers ask more questions before choosing a travel agent to make sure they have a qualified agent. Some provinces — seven of them — do not require any training or any kind of registration. This is a huge problem and one factor that will keep bringing travel professionals down,” he continues. “Yes, the smart and knowledgeable agents will do well as they always have, but the perception about the value of a travel agent is only as good as the agent’s knowledge and professionalism.”
At TTAND, they have rolled out a program around service fees and cancellation fees, which included training agents and providing them with the proper documents needed.
“This included having lawyers read over the entire agent/consumer agreement,” he says. “I believe the strong agents will survive and start charging service fees for the value they bring to the table when counselling a customer.”
Drawing parallels between the pandemic and running a marathon, he says the travel industry is nearing the end of the race with the last few miles being the most challenging.
“Now we are in the last six months and it’s like ‘Frick! I don’t know if I can do this,’ but you are with other runners and they are doing it so you don’t want to quit, and they don’t want to quit because they are seeing you run,” he says. “So this last six months will be key to making sure the travel industry survives and all these knowledgeable and amazing agents don’t throw in the towel. The finish line is in sight!”