Coping during COVID-19
This week Travel Courier checks in with Holly Smithers, Senior Travel Consultant with Merit Travel Newmarket, who stays connected with colleagues through weekly virtual meetings.
What has it been like being a travel advisor during this challenging time?
Friday the 13th of March definitely lived up to its reputation. It was a black Friday for the travel industry. I have to say my heart broke that day, my stamina broke, my patience broke, but I did not break!
Everyday chaos was a new normal for me, from cancelled flights to stranded clients to complete despair. I have never experienced this ever in my life, everything was so uncontrolled.
I decided day 2 that I would find my control, would find my “super power” and then I would stop and just breathe and remember the true passion I have for this career.
I would take all my worries, all my heartbreak and dig deep to find my power. I knew I had it in me. I realized I can’t control what is happening, I can work through it. This is what I have done from day 2 of this Pandemic.
Together with my colleagues and some stellar travel partners from cruise guides to insurance companies, we strove to work in tandem. We got the job at hand done, we helped each other, helped our clients, leaned on each other, and we continue to do this even though things have not become as urgent. My tribe is tight and I am so thankful I am surrounded by other professionals who put the client first.
Smithers connects with colleagues on weekly virtual meetings to discuss work related issues and monthly Town Hall support meetings with the Merit Travel team.
We’ve now reached the nine months mark of the pandemic. How are things going right now?
If there’s something to be said about the travel industry, it’s how resilient we are. Not a storm, fires, hurricane, or now, even a pandemic can stop us. When our industry is in trouble we all come together to support it.
I have been on a virtual call with my MP along with many different agents in the community to emphasize the importance of my career and the need for protection in our sector.
I am glad that the Canadian government is now aware of the particular challenges that the travel sector is facing and that we are crucial for the economy and is offering aide to our sector.
I am adapting on how I work and learn, how I socialize with co-workers and clients. Our company has made it very easy for our mental health with virtual meetings, and guest speakers, and I have taken advantage of tour operators and virtual training.
I actually look forward to my weekly virtual meetings with my colleagues to discuss work related issues, every Wednesday, and we have Town Hall meetings from our company once a month to support us.
Recovery is a priority, and I have noticed my clients are eager to start travelling again. Yes, they will stick closer to home. Many want to mitigate their risks and abstain from international travel. We have a beautiful country and now is the time to explore more of our own backyard. I have booked more ski packages and future train travel than ever before.
“Pre covid-19, I had started charging fees for my professional planning and advice. During Covid-19 and the endless hours that affected us on March 13th, I realized I will not undervalue myself, because if I do the consumers will also. Going forward planning fees or service fees is in everything I do, no longer will I be scared of this!“
What do you miss most about travelling?
To miss something is to be incomplete and that is how I have been feeling without travel, it is like my other part that makes me whole.
I miss the anticipation of planning a trip! Having a trip to look forward too is always so motivating!
I miss finding the hidden gem in a country, like the coffee shop that has the locals chatting and enjoying the fresh bread or that restaurant that has the perfect view and the best seafood platter or steak.
The airport, has always been exciting for me, and doing all my airport rituals. I love steeping on and off the airplane because I know adventure awaits me!
I love showing the world of travel to my family and friends and seeing the wonder in their eyes.
I miss meeting new people.
I miss the sense of adventure, the unknown, the dolphins following the ship out to sea or that hike that I just might be able to go further than I have ever gone!
I guess its just that feeling of being in the moment and savouring it.
How have you shifted strategies during the pandemic?
Travel is always changing, and I am very lucky that my company had been thinking “outside the box” starting many years ago, trying to keep up with the demand for more access of automation.
I was given a laptop for remote access many years prior to the pandemic, so I was able to pivot along with many of my colleagues to set up from home with a upgraded phone system and home office, that didn’t cause added stress.
The pandemic made me work effectively from home. Since I am working from home my clients have been now setting up appointments, and communicating via phone or texting, or in some cases a virtual talk that we offer, monthly.
Pre covid-19, I had started charging fees for my professional planning and advice, during Covid-19 and the endless hours that affected us on March 13th I realized I will not undervalue myself, because if I do the consumers will also. Going forward planning fees or service fees is in everything I do, no longer will I be scared of this!
I am excited over the many changes our industry will be able to integrate into travel, giving clients the ability to dream once again!
If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of this situation, it’s been that more people have seen the value of using a travel agent firsthand. Do you agree? How can advisors get this message out?
We all know the travel landscape is changing, and information is on overload, I feel this is my opportunity to focus on what I do!
I can navigate the Covid-19 or any information for my clients, I have the tools and the expertise to do this! I am part life coach, psychiatrist, match maker, insurance guru and dream maker.
I also can handle any emergencies-stuff happens, whether you believe in climate change or not, weather events have become more commonplace, and unpredictable, i.e. Fires of California and Australia they need a travel advisor to handle the mess, navigate the storm.
How do I get this message out, I guess its being secure in what I can offer, and confident that I can deliver. I have built my brand, by evolving and changing with the trends and keeping communication open with my company and my clients. Travel will always be unpredictable, I will be the constant and calm for my clients. I go beyond the booking, by picking the right suppliers to work with and doing all that I can to make sure my clients enjoy their vacations before and after. I also am very vocal on what I do for a living, if everyone around you knows what you do for a living, then its easy, I don’t mind tooting my own horn once in awhile. I really love what I do and am so very proud of our industry.
What are you focusing on right now? Are you doing anything to grow business through domestic travel?
I’m focusing on my clients and keeping my relationships strong and growing. I keep up with my training and understanding the new rules on a daily changing platform.
I engage with my clients on a daily basis in many different ways and I intend to grow my business by strengthening those ties with my local community. In the past my team often held in person events but I have shifted to social media and virtual events like our series of Virtual Travel Talks. These virtual talks feature destinations around the world but also showcase our beautiful country and what it has to offer.
I have been lucky enough to traverse from East Coast to the West of Canada and have enjoyed the places not on most tourist maps. I feel this expertise is helpful when guiding others on planning their vacations.
How has travel impacted your own life?
I started travelling at a young age, as a kid, my Grandparents and parents were great explorers, either taking me to travel with them or telling me wonderful stories about all of their adventures. I believe travel to them meant living purely in the moment, simple and uncomplicated joys. I have kept the same outlook about travel.
I love traveling with my family to show them what the world is all about, best history and life lesson you can give them!
I believe travel has made me independent in my life allowing me to step outside of my day to day comfort, I am a wife and mother but I am also free to be a wonderer, travel has defined my independence gave me definition in my life. Travel has made me fierce, it has given me passion and understanding. Travel in my life is deep in my soul.
How long have you been in the industry and what are some of your secrets to success?
I have been cultivating and refining my career for the last 30 years in this wonderful industry.
My clients are drawn to my knowledge, passion for travel and I get great satisfaction helping my clients achieve their travel dreams.
My success continues to grow by word of mouth from my clients, friends and family. I am a trusted professional.
What do you think is standing in the way of recovery?
Pretty simple: The 14 day quarantine and the vaccine being able to role it out quickly and safely.
Do you have anything to add?
Just something by Dr Seuss:
“You’re off to Great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”
Lets all be kind and see you at the airport!