One year later… How are agents coping 12 months into the pandemic?
It has been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world — and the travel industry in Canada — upside down. After a rollercoaster 12 months of rebooking trips (and then rebooking them yet again), adapting to ever-changing regulations and travel restrictions, and facing mounting commission recalls, it’s been nothing short of an incredibly challenging time for the travel industry. In spite of the hardship, travel advisors have persevered. Here’s a look at four notable agents who are ready to usher in a new era of travel.
Chasing the adventure
How’s this for a bold move? Although she started her education beforehand, Meredith Eudovic became a travel advisor in the middle of the pandemic.
From working on cruise ships to running experiential trips for students abroad, travel had always been a huge part of her life, so in April of 2020 Eudovic reached out to Andrea Nadon and the Frontliners Travel Group, to find out more about what it takes to become a home-based agent.
“I honestly feel like this has been the best time to jump right into the industry. With minimal travel bookings during COVID, it has given me the time to really focus on learning the industry, complete training and specialist courses and develop my business, without any added pressure,” says Eudovic, the Adventure Planner behind Chasing Adventures Travel. “This has really given me the chance to learn and grow as a travel agent very quickly.”
As a new agent, Eudovic says the pandemic has forced her to find ways to engage with potential clients on social media and build up a level of trust so that when the floodgates open, she will have a host of travellers who are comfortable and ready to book.
“This has taken creativity, as instead of simply trying to sell, I’ve really learned how to engage, be vulnerable and connect in order to keep people dreaming of travel,” she says. “I’ve also focused a lot more on local adventures.”
Looking ahead, Eudovic says her outlook for the recovery of the travel industry is bright.
“People will always want to travel, to explore both locally and abroad, and that is not going to change,” she says. “While it may take a little longer for that to happen than we hoped for, progress is happening in regards to recovery and people will recognize the value and expertise of using a travel agent moving forward. I also hope that when travel re-bounds, people will travel more mindfully, so that their travel has a positive impact on local communities and on the fragile world we live in.”
Cruising into new bookings
For Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida of Bob Family Travel with TravelOnly, the future is looking pretty positive again. In the past two weeks, they’ve secured almost 40 clients on Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ newly renovated S. S. Beatrice for May 2022, travelling the Danube river from Bucharest to Budapest.
“All clients went for the higher end cabins including taking every suite that was available on the ship and this really opened our eyes to what clients are willing to spend,” Probert says. “We also had another group book Uniworld’s new S. S. Antoinette doing Castles Along the Rhine for May 2022, which is also another great itinerary. We currently have a group of 16 more pax looking to book into this group now.”
Probert and de Almeida say a lot of traction has come out of holding webinars, which have captured the attention of clients who are eager to travel again. In addition to river cruises, they’ve also done a high volume of business with Celebrity for the summer of 2022 in Alaska. In anticipation of cancelled itineraries this year, Probert said they preemptively blocked space before prices went up.
“Last Friday after I had finished for the day a new referral came in and they booked two cruises with a value over $85,000.00 so again we know money is no object for some,” he says. “Clients have been confined to their homes for too long and they are ready to travel and spend money – but there is a condition. All clients are waiting for their vaccines and have been very explicit about not wanting to travel without being fully vaccinated.”
With the vaccine rollout underway, de Almeida notes that travel requests are up considerably in the first few months of the year.
“We expect to beat sales and revenue numbers we had in 2018, which was a very good year,” she says. “Although 2020 started out strong, it quickly came crashing down in March. In 2019, we experienced a record year with business up almost double from the previous year so we hope to get back to these numbers by 2023.”
If recent sales are any indication — including big ticket booking like Uniworld’s $35,000 Royal Suite — there is definitely pent up demand for all kinds of travel.
“We firmly believe we will very likely be seeing the strongest explosion the travel market will have ever seen in recent memory with all the pent-up demand from clients who have been unable to confidently travel for the past two years,” Probert says. “My advice to other agents is get ready and plan and sell today… not next year or later this year because it will be too late by then.”
Longer than expected
Even though business is down, Alfiero Cavallo continues to head to the Bradford-based offices for Verona Travel Ltd.
“I continue to open the office everyday servicing clients, answering the phone and responding to emails,” Cavallo tells Travel Courier. “One year ago, I would have estimated the travel industry would be halted for no more than sixty days. Fast forward to March 2021, sales have plummeted to depths below 9/11. Considering the last five years’ revenues have been record setting, this pandemic has been devastating as a business owner. Besides the financial losses, having to furlough staff was the most difficult decision I had to make.”
Although the most challenging days are when there are no phone calls to answer and not knowing when economies will re-open in general, Cavallo is maintaining a positive attitude.
“I pride myself on having a positive attitude during times where we cannot control the environment we are all living in. So, I’m working on communicating the opportunities and benefits of future travel,” the small business owner says. “I have secured a few bookings for the end of 2021 and know that once restrictions are lifted business will be back – bigger, better and brighter times ahead!”
To keep the business afloat, Cavallo took advantage of the CEBA loan whereby $40,000 is returned to the Federal government and the business owners keep $20,000.
“As there was little-to-no relief for the travel industry, it is my hope the government will forgive the $40,000.”
While borders have remained closed, Cavallo has turned to social media to keep engaging with clients who are unable to travel.
“What I have done occasionally is posting on social media pictures of how beautiful the City of Toronto is from exploring the waterfront, to the little communities.”