Coping during COVID-19
This week Travel Courier checks in with Amanda Grewall, Network Manager for Flight Centre Toronto Travel Centre, who believes the benefit of having a travel agent during this time is priceless — and not just because she’s in the industry.
What has it been like being a travel advisor during this challenging time?
It’s been challenging, of course, the best part of our role — booking customers’ travel — has temporarily ceased and it has been a big change. I know I can speak for most of my colleagues when I say our key driver lies with customer connections and travel and it’s certainly been an adjustment not being able to have that same face-to-face connection with our customers.
We’ve had to change our entire role to provide assistance from home and really enhance our communication methods and styles. The most challenging part for me personally has been in assisting elderly clients who may not be as tech savvy as others. The beautiful part of this entire situation though has been that we are genuinely one of the few travel companies that are personally available to customers. We have not turned our phones, e-mails or website off, in fact we worked together to support all customers across the nation rather than on a per-store basis. It’s been difficult, but we’ve become stronger and much more efficient over the course of the last six months.
Admiring the views in Namibia
Tell us a bit about the work you did repatriating clients and getting refunds during the pandemic?
Oh goodness, where do I start? Repatriating clients was the most difficult for me personally, I had no control over when I would be able to get a customer home. The worst feeling as a travel agent is not being able to help your customer and I really had to come to terms that I had no control in a lot of the situations I was dealing with. We weren’t able to predict any travel patterns with all the restrictions being put in place, and flights felt as though they were being cancelled by the minute — there were certainly some trying situations. I still have a client who is on a small island in the Philippines. He says he will come home when he can but for now he is enjoying snorkelling and fishing each day! I can’t say I blame him. In regards to refunds, I had the privilege of working on a small team who’s main focus was to refund our clients. This was a great role because we got to deliver the good news to customers that they were getting long awaited funds returned to them. Refunds have been a hot topic since March and sadly there is no streamline answer for customers, every situation is different which makes thing difficult when explaining the terms and conditions.
Park Güell in Barcelona
“The biggest secret to success that any person in sales or working with clients should know is to listen. I mean to really listen to your clients and to be equally engaging and interested in them. The difference that sets apart Flight Centre from other companies is our people. We want to know who you are, why you chose a destination, what does it mean to you to travel?“
How’s business and bookings right now?
It’s getting better, albeit slowly. Canadians are open to domestic travel, and now is a great opportunity to see the country we’re all fortunate enough to live in. Our customers are definitely interested in traveling, we are all patiently awaiting the green light to travel as well. Our role will be very different coming out of this, I always say to my team that 90% of our role is educating our clients and the other 10% is booking the travel. Moving forward this could not be more true; there is so much information to know about re-bookings, exchanges and credits that customers have very seldom had to know in the past. I have some colleagues that have travelled to Croatia, France and Jamaica which is pretty neat to see!
What’s it like flying/travelling again? What are the main differences you notice?
It was a pleasant experience. Personally, I could not wait to get on a plane again! I flew with Air Canada from Toronto to Vancouver and they did everything right in my opinion. Arriving at Toronto Pearson you had one person directing traffic, the baggage drop and check-in zone was entirely contactless. You got in a clearly laid out line to have your temperature taken, everyone at the airport was in masks and socially distanced from one another. The airport staff were so friendly and understanding that this is a new process for everyone. Air Canada had the seats spaced out accordingly and offered a little care kit that came with a complimentary mask, hand sanitizer, a water bottle amongst other items. One of the biggest differences that I noticed was the atmosphere at the airport, typically everyone is so excited and there’s lots of chatter. The overall demeanour of people felt a little more quiet and more uncertain that normal but with that being said it was very positive overall.
Checking out Hobbiton in New Zealand
How long have you been in the industry and what are some of your secrets to success?
I’ve been in the industry for seven years now. I started as a sales agent at a call centre for a tour company, then moved onto Flight Centre when I was 23. I’ve worked in two provinces and ran three offices including my current role at our flagship location; the Toronto Travel Centre. I’m a people person so to be honest I think this role came easily to me as far as connecting with people. The difficult part was all of the product knowledge, where to send clients, which properties were actually trustworthy and how honest were the reviews? The biggest secret to success that any person in sales or working with clients should know is to listen. I mean to really listen to your clients and to be equally engaging and interested in them. The difference that sets apart Flight Centre from other companies is our people. We want to know who you are, why you chose a destination, what does it mean to you to travel? Second to that is communication; my team will laugh and likely say I am an over-communicator. In my opinion it’s necessary specifically in our industry because there is so much to know, well before COVID this was the case so you can imagine how much more there is to know now!
There’s been a lot of talk about the domestic market recovering first. Are you doing anything to grow business this way?
Great question and I mentioned it above as well; now is a great time to see our beautiful country. I’m embarrassed to say I have seen more of Australia in the three times I have visited than I’ve seen of Canada in the 29 years I’ve lived here! Internally we’re working with our wholesale suppliers to generate contracts with companies we may not have had to before. Previously the market for Canada within Canada was quite small for us, our office predominately sold destinations such as Europe and Asia. We’ve had to pivot our learning to really understand what is available to us in Canada, and if you visit our website you will see a huge change in our blogs to promote destinations within Canada such as Vancouver, Montreal and Banff. Our business is ever evolving which I love because we’re constantly learning and finding new hidden gems!
Hanging out in Mayan Riviera, Mexico
Over the past six months, it seems like more people have seen the value of using a travel agent firsthand. Do you agree? How can advisors get this message out?
I would agree; again I truly believe it comes back to communication. Not all of our customers over the course of the last six months have been happy, some of these reasons were within our control and some were not. The benefit of having a travel agent during this time is priceless in my opinion and I don’t say that because I am in the business. There are several travel companies around the world that have turned off their communication channels, I can’t even imagine being a customer of theirs and experiencing that. How can you voice your concerns when there is no one to speak to? We may not have all the answers but we can always provide our insight into similar situations and help guide a client toward the best outcome for them. We’re fiercely loyal to our customer base as well; if our customers are eligible for specific offers you bet we will do everything we can to ensure that they get that. Similar to relationships, not every advisor and customer will click right away so my advice to customers is if you don’t click with the first one, try someone else! I promise you will build a relationship with someone who understands you. I have clients I’ve been booking for six years and it’s as easy as telling me their dates, destination and what they want to do and bam the itinerary is done for them because I already know their preferences. Our intention is to make your life easier and hopefully add some value and cool ideas along the way too!
Greetings from Prague
Do you have any strategies to get through the next few months?
Try to build some normalcy into my team’s day-to-day job. The last six months have been gruelling on all of us and we’re really looking forward to getting customers excited about future trips again. Our strategies truly just include a focus on domestic travel, keeping a close eye on where we’re able to send clients safely internationally and getting everyone back into the exciting stage of seeing the world again.
How has travel impacted your own life?
The impact globally has been immense and indescribable which really is the forefront of this pandemic. Personally, I’m fortunate enough to be writing out these answers from my mom’s dining table in Squamish, which is my hometown so it’s had minimal impact on my own life. I’ve had the opportunity to work remotely over the course of the last few months which brought me home to spend time with my family which has been a great experience. I was in New Zealand on a work conference when the pandemic was officially announced, during that time we were definitely worried. There was so much uncertainty and being half way across the world wasn’t the ideal place to be when our home country was shutting down. I’ve had both spectrums of worrying if we will be able to make it home but then having the ability to fly to BC and spend time with my family. I think we can all agree it’s been an interesting six months, an eye opener for sure. Do I want to be able to travel? Of course! Although this has forced me to spend more time at the cottages in Ontario and jet around BC so I’ve been able to see more of this beautiful country we call home.
Black Friday sale 2020
Do you have anything to add?
Always. Travel Agents are valuable! I cannot stress the importance of having a person to rely on when things don’t go to plan and this pandemic has proven our value time and again. There is so much information out there, and we are in a position to help travellers streamline and break it down. We love travel just as much as our clients and we want what is best for them. To anyone who has the travel itch, keep that excitement alive! When this is all over I’m certain we will all be heading to those bucket list destinations we have been putting off for whatever reason we told ourselves. Happy travels!