“As travel agents, I believe we need to set an example for our clients by being responsible during this time.”
By: Ann Ruppenstein
In a followup to last week’s cover story about travel agencies, Travel Courier heads to the frontline to get a sense of how things are going for travel advisors and what recovery looks like.
Six months and counting into the worldwide pandemic, Shelly Monroe is surprised to still be looking for signs of any kind of recovery in the travel industry.
“We are anxious to book our clients and get back to planning their bucket list trips and help them see and experience the world,” Monroe, Owner & Personal Travel Consultant of Sweet Escapes Travel – TPI in Kentville, Nova Scotia, tells Travel Courier. “There is definitely a lot of pent up demand for travel when they are ready to go and feel safe enough.”
For Monroe, the biggest obstacle for industry recovery in Canada is the mandatory two weeks of self-quarantine order by the Government, which has been extended until Oct. 31.
“I feel that is the bigger issue over a vaccine,” she says. “There are many people that will travel and take precautions before they receive an effective vaccine once that is rolled out. Others will wait for a vaccine, it is a personal decision and we have to respect the clients’ comfort level.”
Even with the flexible terms and conditions being offered by suppliers, airlines and tour operators, she says many clients are still hesitant to commit to booking travel for 2021.
“Unfortunately, new bookings have been very slow for the past six months,” she says. “My agency has had some bookings for 2022.”
Although it’s a positive initiative that airlines and some operators have started offering COVID-19 medical travel insurance, she points out that it is important to read the fine print of these recent offerings to make sure clients are well covered so they can travel with confidence.
“It has been a very challenging six months for all of us in this industry. I think we were in a bit of shock back in March as things were changing so quickly and we could not control what was happening,” she says. “Travel is my passion and I cannot imagine a future without it. I am sticking it out and will have a renewed focus and ready to book my clients when the floodgates open!”
As an agent who is typically frequently on a Fam trip or seminar at sea, attending conferences, escorting groups, travelling for personal vacations, Monroe misses travelling and is looking for the next opportunity to get out there and explore.
“I will go on a Fam trip if the opportunity presents itself,” she says. “In fact, I have a Fam booked for the end of September for beautiful Cape Breton in my own province of Nova Scotia. I am looking forward to it and will be promoting staycations for the Atlantic Province’s bubble and for other parts of Canada when restrictions are lifted.”
When asked how business is going half a year into the pandemic, Pamela Walker of Weddings by Escapes jokes, “Business? What business?”
In all honesty, however, the Alberta-based destination wedding specialist says “business has slowed down to a drip.”
All of Walker’s existing clients who did not opt to cancel due to COVID outright, moved their travel dates into spring or fall 2021.
“I’ve had one new couple book their destination wedding travel since the start of COVID,” Walker tells Travel Courier. “Otherwise, all I’ve been doing is assisting with insurance claims and sending out schedule changes.”
Similar to Monroe, Walker believes the 14-day quarantine is the biggest hurdle for travellers.
“I honestly don’t think that I will have anyone travel until that has been replaced with rapid testing on arrival home or something along those lines,” she says. “Most wedding couples make the decision for their guests whether they will travel or not, and most of my couples who have cancelled or rebooked have expressed that the 14-day quarantine is just too much to ask of their guests.”
Although some suppliers have started offering Fam trips, Walker says she won’t travel internationally until the government travel advisory has been downgraded or lifted.
“This seems to be a contentious issue,” she adds. “I think it is irresponsible to travel when the government has advised against non-essential travel. As travel agents, I believe we need to set an example for our clients by being responsible during this time. Yes, it is killing our business not to have our clients travel, but the possibility of COVID being around longer and longer is worse.”
Instead, Walker feels travel advisors have other tools they can utilize to show clients that they are keeping up with current protocols in the destinations they sell.
“Every popular resort chain has webinars to keep us up-to-date on what they are doing for COVID safety, the tour companies and airlines update us constantly, we have everything at our fingertips in order to stay on top of things,” she says. “This is a great way to keep busy and positive, and show our clients we are knowledgeable and professional, so when travel does turn on again, we are ready for it.”
Being located in the West, she says travel advisors have dealt with some extra struggles over the last few months as airlines cancelled western gateways, recalled commissions and left many cities without direct flight options to the sun.
“Clients are extremely upset and angry with all these changes, and we agents are left once again holding the bag,” she says. “It has been beyond exhausting and demoralizing working so hard for our clients over the last six months, trying to do right by them and also to save our business, to once again have the airlines make these decisions that essentially leave us in an even worse place yet again.”
Looking on the bright side, Walker is optimistic that travel will eventually open up and people will get excited about booking travel again.
“I also believe that after all this, the public will understand the value of using a travel professional and will seek us out in force,” she says. “We as travel pros just need to have a little more patience. In the meantime, I’m personally keeping relevant by updating my social media every week or so with testimonials and throwbacks so future wedding couples know I’m still in business and waiting for them to be ready to start their destination wedding planning.”
For Stephanie Griffiths of Mangata Escapes with TravelOnly, business is looking good — just not for this year.
“2020 business is obsolete as you can imagine, but there is still very much hope for destination weddings,” Griffiths tells Travel Courier. “I have been booking weddings like crazy to be honest. Late 2021 and early 2022 is starting to book up quite nicely. Guests seem comfortable enough to put down deposits knowing that there wasn’t any true loss [of money] via COVID.”
That said, the majority of the destination wedding and groups she had booked for this year rescheduled for 2021.
Although the new insurance offerings from suppliers are helpful, she says the 14-day quarantine upon return is still hindering recovery for the travel industry.
“The 14-day quarantine needs to go in order for people to go away again. Many cannot afford to take three weeks off for a one week vacation,” she says. “The trip interruption protection recently offered via Manulife for COVID will help the most.”
With young kids at home and a husband working full time, Griffiths says she wouldn’t be able to travel internationally with the current regulations in place.
“This has hit many agents very hard,” she says. “Although I am hopeful travel will return soon… I just don’t want it to be too soon for safety.”