Coping during COVID-19
This week Travel Courier checks in with Tarah Degelman of Go Travel in Davidson, Saskatchewan, who considers herself fortunate to have been able to travel to the Dominican Republic in November.
What has it been like being a travel advisor during this challenging time?
This has been one of the most challenging times of my experience in the travel industry. I think the hardest part was the unknown. This is something the industry has never seen before.
We had no idea what was going to happen. Nor did the airlines or travel suppliers. It was unprecedented to all of us.
We’ve now reached the ten month mark of the pandemic. How are things going right now?
The recent news in regards to the cancellation of flights to Mexico and the Caribbean was a shock. I think with the recent implementation of the rapid test pilot project in Calgary had given us a glimmer of hope. If it all went well in Alberta then we could roll the pilot out to other provinces in Canada. Canadians want to travel. That has been stressed quite often by talking to my clients. Unfortunately, this was never attainable when the majority of working travellers only have three weeks of vacation they can use in one year. Anyone with children would have to keep them out of school for that time frame as well. Many professions had restrictions on travel outside of Canada. It just wasn’t a viable option.
“I was blown away by the protocols in place to keep guests safe. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe. It was a great feeling. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was a huge relief. I needed that reassurance to keep my hopes up. And now that we are being faced with these new requirements, I am so happy that I decided to go when I did. These measures could still be in place after the vaccine has been delivered so I am glad I will have firsthand knowledge on what the protocols will look like during travel when we are all able to do it safely.“
What do you miss most about travelling? Or if you’ve travelled, what was it like travelling again and why was that important to you?
I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Dominican Republic in November, 2020. I had booked my airfare beforehand for what was supposed to be a FAM trip for our agency. It ended up being cancelled due to limited flight schedules. I had many clients asking me what travel looked like at that time. Many who were able, were considering booking for winter of 2021 but I received many concerns about what travel looked like at that time. Where would they have to wear masks? What resort facilities were open and closed? And of course, the big question. What was being done to ensure everyone’s safety? I decided in order to ensure my clients were properly informed with all the facts, that I would make the trip on my own to see what it all looked like.
This trip didn’t come as an easy decision to me. I weighed heavily on all the pros and cons. I already had the arrangements in place to go and I decided to go for it and travelled to Punta Cana on my own. There was definitely a part of me that was nervous during the process of getting through the airport and flying. I flew through Toronto and it was alarming to me how quiet it was in comparison to the many times I had gone through before, so it can be a bit unnerving to process that. It was the same at the airport in Punta Cana. Eerily quiet. I arrived late in the evening and there was currently a curfew in Punta Cana so it was strange to be the only vehicle on the roads in our shuttle bus. But upon reaching the resort and seeing how quiet it was, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in safe surroundings. The most I counted on the beach one afternoon was 12. The most I saw around the main pool was eight people. It was so surreal.
A resort with over 800 rooms and I don’t think there were more than 100 guests staying there. I was blown away by the protocols in place to keep guests safe. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe. It was a great feeling. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was a huge relief. I needed that reassurance to keep my hopes up. And now that we are being faced with these new requirements, I am so happy that I decided to go when I did. These measures could still be in place after the vaccine has been delivered so I am glad I will have first hand knowledge on what the protocols will look like during travel when we are all able to do it safely.
How have you shifted strategies during the pandemic?
I think the most important thing we could do as agents is to keep in contact with our clients. Even if we were simply lending out ears to hear their frustrations. We were all in need of someone to listen to our frustrations as well. It was hard to keep up with the suppliers and airlines updating policies so we both understood each other’s concerns. My strategies of helping my clients in destination had turned into fighting for my clients to get their money back.
What are you focusing on these days?
I try to post often on my Facebook business page. Even if it’s just a funny video or photo related to travel to keep people engaged. I am coming up with some ways to promote local travel within our province as a way to support small businesses and get clients exploring in our own backyard. I think many travellers are wondering just how many agents will survive given the current situation. I want to ensure that when my clients feel they are ready, that I will be here to help. There is a lot of optimism for 2022.
Since the pandemic hit, it seems that more people have seen the value of using a travel agent firsthand. How can advisors take advantage of this? How are you getting the word out?
It has never been a better time to promote the things we can do as agents for our clients. Travellers found out firsthand what it was like to sit on hold for hours and how to get the answers they needed. We can get answers sooner. We have access to direct contacts to rectify their concerns. We simply have more availability to the resources which can help them in the event that they encounter an issue. When something goes wrong while traveling, nobody wants to sit on hold and deal with a voice automated system. They want to speak to a real person. This is something we provide that most online booking engines do not.
How long have you been in the industry and what are some of your secrets to success?
I first started in the travel industry as an agent in 2004 working for an office front agency. I was in and out of the industry over a span of about ten years working for a few different companies. I made the leap to start my own home based business under my current host agency, Go Travel in 2016. I’m not sure about success, but I found that social media was the best way to get the word out quickly. We are blessed to have such a functional way to advertise for very little cost so it’s a very valuable tool. Another thing is the tried and true word of mouth. A client tells a friend or co-worker and it carries fast. One thing that is important to me as an agent is to make personal connections with my clients. I typically try to get to know more about my clients and their lives. What do they do for a living? How old are their children? What are things they enjoy doing as a family? Where have they traveled before and what did they like or dislike about it? All these things help give us a better glimpse into what would be best suited for them and their travel needs. Another thing I always tell my clients is that I am available around the clock. My phone never leaves my side. If they have an issue at 2am, I will answer their call. I know that issues can come up outside of the usual office hours. I want my clients to know that I am there at all times.
What do you think is standing in the way of recovery?
I would like to see Canada utilize more rapid testing. I understand that delivering the vaccine to the entire population is crucial, however there will still likely be safety measures in place after that time. By making sure we can test everyone coming into our airports, we can hopefully avoid further spread and the need for a mandatory quarantine. The biggest concern among travellers is the 14 day quarantine.
Do you have anything to add?
I have no doubt that when travel is able to resume safely that it will be on the top of Canadian’s to-do lists. When it’s time, this industry will quickly bounce back, better than it ever was before. I believe we’ve been through the worst already. Things will only go up from here!