Finding a way forward

Innovation drives the industry ahead

Using the overused buzzword of the past year as an example, the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges and turmoil to the travel industry. Travel advisors are struggling, tour operators aren't operating, airlines are cutting routes and would-be travellers are staying home amidst lockdowns and new hotel quarantine measures. So, it makes sense to avoid getting into the industry, right?

In anticipation of a brighter future, Travel Courier caught up with several businesses who have expanded or launched new travel-focused companies during these trying times, as well as an organization that’s helping make sure its members stay afloat to meet future travellers. 

By: Ann Ruppenstein

A new solution

Having been in the travel industry since 1987, Rick MacSwain, the managing director of newly launched Network Travel in Edmonton, Alberta says he’s weathered many challenges throughout the years including the catastrophic 9/11.

“At that time, we were thinking, things can’t get worse for our industry, but this pandemic has certainly created a new level of devastating challenges,” MacSwain tells Travel Courier. “I believe challenge brings opportunity and when travel safely re-opens the pent-up demand is going to be something we have never experienced in our lifetime. I see this as an incredible opportunity and decided to build a new company called Network Travel Ltd. Our focus is groups, luxury and customized experiences. When the re-opening begins our greatest challenge will be the demand and a lack of availability. We will be ready.”

During the past several months, MacSwain says he took the time to step back and analyze what travel agencies have done exceptionally well, while also identifying opportunities for improvement and ideas to set the business apart for greater success.

“Thinking that we earn or retain customers by spending hours of research to save them a few dollars is not something we want to continue,” MacSwain says, noting that he strongly believes the rebound will be worth the wait. “Our clients are willing to pay for exceptional service with the same expectations as their other professional lifestyle service providers.”

In the same way that people turn to professional fitness coaches, dentists or bankers, Network Travel’s goal is to be identified as a lifestyle service provider. 

“As a lifestyle service provider, we are available to meet our customers when and where they feel comfortable. This could be at their place of business, a restaurant, a coffee shop or in their private residence,” he says. “Our team is our greatest priority and how they are treated is displayed in our customer care. Success always follows! We are not a call centre nor an Online Travel Agency. Our customers expect personalized communications and therefore we have no interest in providing an online booking solution on our website. Our valuable resources are directed to personalized service.”

“Thinking that we earn or retain customers by spending hours of research to save them a few dollars is not something we want to continue. Our clients are willing to pay for exceptional service with the same expectations as their other professional lifestyle service providers.”

Making the connection

Although it was in the works prior to the pandemic, Saskatoon, Sask.-based Jamie Milton says the downturn in bookings gave the team at Uniglobe Carefree Travel the time to focus on launching a new division called Carefree Connections Canada. The business provides custom solutions for technology, training, marketing, support, and revenue growth across an innovative partnership program for independent travel advisors and travel agencies looking for a new way of doing business. 

“Carefree Connections Canada is unique in the hosted travel services marketplace,” Jamie Milton, managing partner, tells Travel Courier. “We are customer centric, have highly engaged, hands-on leadership and drive a feeling of teamwork, family and trust in our organization. Our partners’ success truly is our success and we are passionate about this business and seeing each and every one of our members exceed their goals. We provide powerful customer service, a sense of family and purposeful intent to help our partners grow their business.”

Over the past few years, she says they built a financial services division at their parent company, Uniglobe Carefree Travel, which has been in business for 32 years.

“This financial services division grew over time to provide services to four separate travel companies. At the same time, we invested a lot of energy into becoming experts at travel marketing, particularly in the social media arena,” she says. “We have an exceptionally well rounded team, including engaged leadership, financial services, travel technology, marketing, ticketing experts, corporate travel solutions, leisure travel specialists, supplier relations and customer engagement teams. We know that going forward, independent consultants and smaller agencies may not be able to afford to keep or reinstate some of these services for themselves. They will need a network and support system they can trust and rely on to help them regrow their business. We can provide all of the support they need and let them focus on what they love doing and what they are best at – selling travel!”

Looking to the future, Milton says there has never been a better time for agents and agencies to explore their options and find a travel services partner that fits into their vision for the future.

“Someone who will enable you to not just recover, but to grow in new, authentic and innovative ways,” she says. “This pandemic has caused us to evaluate what is truly important in our business and to become smarter in the way we do business. One of the key things that kept coming up was our people and our partners. Without our people, we have no business and keeping our key people engaged and developing new skills to prepare for the future has been a key focus over the past year. The future is bright and we are ready!”

“Without our people, we have no business and keeping our key people engaged and developing new skills to prepare for the future has been a key focus over the past year. The future is bright and we are ready!”

Ready to embrace the future

For Indigenous Tourism British Columbia (ITBC) it’s also important to ensure that local businesses will be around when travel returns. ITBC, in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, is distributing $5 million to local Indigenous tourism businesses through the BC Indigenous Tourism Recovery Fund.

“The fund offers grants of up to $45,000 to support businesses navigate the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19,” Brenda Baptiste, Chair and Board Member of ITBC tells Travel Courier. “The grant will help with operational costs or shifting to focus on domestic marketing for 2021. Our main goal is to ensure the survival of our more than 400 Indigenous tourism businesses in BC.”

In addition, ITBC is continuing to assist businesses through the Indigenous Alignment Strategy, a three-year plan to rebuild and expand BC’s Indigenous tourism sector through the pandemic and beyond.

“Local businesses continue to struggle – and Indigenous businesses are particularly vulnerable, as the majority are small- to medium-sized enterprises that face unique challenges accessing loans or credit,” says Baptiste. “An extra $45,000 can go a long way in bridging the gap between the slower winter season and planning for the busier summer, and we hope this funding enables Indigenous tourism businesses across BC to continue operating as we move through recovery.”

“We recognize this has been an incredibly challenging year for people working in the Indigenous tourism sector and we want to empower businesses to come back strong when it’s safe again to welcome visitors to our communities,” says Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. “This is reconciliation in action – government working in partnership with Indigenous Tourism BC to develop this funding program specifically designed for Indigenous tourism operators. The program is now open and I encourage eligible businesses to apply now.”

Looking to the recovery of the industry, Baptiste anticipates a bigger focus on travel in our own backyard, as well as increased attention to supporting local businesses and the sustainability of the industry.

“The pandemic has made many reflect on what is important, and how much we rely on each other,” Baptiste says. “Once tourism re-opens, we suspect travel will be more deliberate and the public will be excited to explore again. We certainly see a connection with (and trend towards) eco-tourism which is crucial for our communities and sustainability… This is part of our lived experience, which is our identity. During these uncertain times, we must continue to remember that the resilience of Indigenous people is incredible; our Indigenous tourism businesses are part of the fabric of our communities and are pivotal to communicating our cultural values and principles. The youth, Elders and the land are the foundation of sharing our culture and stories to our guests. We have a responsibility to protect our communities and our guests, which we will continue to do so until this is over. Indigenous people have always thought in the long-term and will continue to thrive once this is over.”

“The grant will help with operational costs or shifting to focus on domestic marketing for 2021. Our main goal is to ensure the survival of our more than 400 Indigenous tourism businesses in BC.”





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