The year of adapting

Travel agencies rise to the challenge after a tumultuous year

Adapt. Pivot. Innovate. Transform. There are many words that can be used to describe how travel agencies have risen above the challenges brought on by the pandemic and travel bans to meet the needs of their agents and future travellers.

ANN RUPPENSTEIN

Travel Courier looks at how companies like Travel Edge, Travel Professionals International and Personal Travel Management are experiencing growth with new members coming on board during a difficult year for the travel industry.

At a time when the travel industry continues to be dealt blow after blow, the team at Personal Travel Management is focused on growth. The boutique Burnaby, BC-based host agency invested in a professional video to promote what it’s like working for the company to potential new agents.

“We recognize that lots of people within our industry have lost their work homes. We wanted to share how we are thriving in the pandemic with other Canadian independent agents,” Darci Murray, Director of Marketing and Growth Strategy at Personal Travel Management, tells Travel Courier. “We want to get the word out there to any agents that may be looking for a new place to call home. Our doors are open and we want our work family to grow as we are very confident our careers are about to erupt. COVID has made our careers indispensable. Once people start travelling, we expect self internet booking to be a thing of the past putting travel professionals in high demand.”

Prior to the pandemic, Murray said the team never would have been comfortable being in front of the camera, but they’ve continued to step out of their comfort zone for marketing ideas and virtual events for clients.

“Last week we hosted virtual presentations with both Lindblad and Windstar,” she says. “Two entirely different ships two completely different itineraries but both 5 star products catering to the same clientele. It was an awesome night. All agents worked as a team promoting the event to their clients.”

Internally, she says they have frequent accountability group meetings with colleagues to support each other and have personal and work related challenges to stay motivated.

"Our doors are open and we want our work family to grow as we are very confident our careers are about to erupt. COVID has made our careers indispensable."

During a year when the travel industry has been dealt lemons, TPI is making lemonade. The host agency, which is headquartered in Winnipeg but has regional offices in Pointe Claire, Oakville and Langley, has partnered up with online marketing expert Sandra McLemore to launch a series of travel marketing workshops for its agents.

“The sessions we’ve designed with Travel Marketing & Media will further allow our network to fine tune their business plans, implement new marketing ideas, and have tactical lessons on how to do that,” Caroline Hay, national director of sales & marketing for TPI tells Travel Courier.  “If our advisors can use this time to work on their business, they will be rebound ready, and can hit the ground running with a clear image of exactly how they want their business to look moving forward.”

The 12-month program will focus on the tools and topics advisors need to achieve their business goals as they gear up for recovery.

“TPI has recognized that for travel advisors to have profitable businesses, it takes more than a passion for travel and supplier training,” adds McLemore. “Advisors now more than ever need high converting marketing strategies in place to attract and maintain a consistent stream of new clients. TPI Advisors will certainly have a competitive edge with this training.”

TPI also finished 2020 with a +11% over 2019 for new advisors and are continuing this positive trend at +13% for 2021 YTD. Hay points out that this growth is credited to their travel advisors, who are their No. 2 lead source.

“We are truly grateful to see the amazing kudos and references we are getting from our network that is reflected in an increase in new advisors joining TPI, since the onset of COVID-19,” she says. “Our numbers include experienced advisors, independent agencies and new to the industry members. Travel advisors will be in great demand and we’re so proud that so many have chosen to partner with us.”

Since the pandemic hit, she says the TPI head office team has been proactive.

“We have implemented new training programs, beefed up our communication strategies and most importantly ensured that our advisors have all the tools they need at their finger tips — from new marketing assets to sales programs, to regional accountability groups to help get through this crisis,” Hay says.

"If our advisors can use this time to work on their business, they will be rebound ready, and can hit the ground running with a clear image of exactly how they want their business to look moving forward."

As it became clear that the pandemic was going to have a longer term impact, Michael Johnson, President of Travel Edge, says the largest luxury-focused agency pivoted from spending resources on operations to investing in tools and services to improve the experience of the advisor.

“We invested in ADX, our booking platform, to empower agents with the ability to package products and services together to sell bundles at higher margins. We think there is an opportunity for the industry to revisit paradigms around pricing and to create opportunities for agents and agencies to earn more,” says Johnson. “We dialled up our focus on community and invested energy into engaging with the advisors and driving connection. And finally we shared our story with the industry and grew the agency by almost 50%.”

Overall, he says Travel Edge came into 2021 as a much larger agency with better tools, a stronger sense of community and a defined idea of where the future of the advisor lies.

“Travel Edge believes we all win when we celebrate our advisors as our business partners – rather than just a host agency,” he says.

Over the last 12 months, Travel Edge has provided innovative support for advisors and the travel community in a variety of ways, including offering a signing bonus of up to $250,000 based on 2019 commission and launching a Keynote Speaker series designed to connect advisors with leaders in luxury travel.

“We believe that the events of the last year have taught the general public about the value of the travel advisor. Having an expert who has insider knowledge and provides you the support you need from beginning to end has never been more valuable,” he says. “Travel Advisors will be the leaders in inspiring clients to travel again. Travel Edge Advisors make travel better.”

"We believe that the events of the last year have taught the general public about the value of the travel advisor. Having an expert who has insider knowledge and provides you the support you need from beginning to end has never been more valuable."

Standing up for independent advisors

I’ve been using this down time to advocate for our industry. I formed the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors back in June, along with Brenda Slater & Nancy Wilson, after we had a Zoom meeting with the Hon. Bruce Stanton to inform him on some of the key issues our sector of the industry is facing. 

We realized that we needed to help mobilize other Travel Advisors to do the same and so we made it as easy for them as possible, by helping them secure the meeting, facilitating the presentation, and looking after the follow up. 

So far we’ve met with over 15 MPs & Policy Advisors, six of whom have spoken on behalf of Travel Advisors in the House of Commons. And we created a Petition to the Government of Canada, sponsored by MP Marc Dalton, asking for protection from commission recalls, which will be presented to the House of Commons after it resumes sitting at the end of January.”

—Judith Coates, founder, Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors





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