“This will get worse before it gets better,” Flemming Friisdahl, the founder of The Travel Agent Next Door, told Travel Courier on the morning of March 13.
And things got worse later that day as the Canadian government advised the public to cancel or postpone all non-essential travel as a preventative measure in the wake of COVID-19, and tour operators and cruise lines around the world announced the temporary suspension of trips, resulting in a crippling effect on business for travel agents.
“Never have this many suppliers suspended operations, from river cruises to ocean cruises to land suppliers like G Adventures and Globus – all top companies within the travel industry,” Friisdahl told Travel Courier following the latest wave of developments. “We have supplied our TTAND partners, the agents, with some programs that may help them financially during this tough time. We have also been talking with ACTA to see what programs they are talking to the federal government about to help financially support the entire travel industry. We are also doing a lot of communications with our partners to make sure they know what is happening. Some of our partners, I am sure, will take on a second job to help support them during this difficult time.”
In response to the news, travel agents have been working diligently to rebook clients, often tag-teaming on calls to suppliers, all while their income continues to take a significant hit, despite some protected commissions.
“We are seeing a situation that none of us have ever have had to deal with, and it is changing by the hour, I am not a medical expert, so I can’t comment on the decisions that are being made by government, but I know that they are having a disastrous effect on business,” said Doug Rollheiser, the owner/manager of Roblin Travel & Cruise. “The consultants in our office are working with our tour operator partners to try to accommodate our clients to the best of our ability. My hope is that the decisions being made now will lessen the long-term impact on the industry and that we will see a return to a more rational process both for travel and our daily lives, in general.”
Describing the rapidly changing situation as “uncharted territory,” Tim Morgan, Virtuoso, Director, Business Strategy – Canada, said Virtuoso is recommending that its travel advisors take into consideration all government and preferred partner notices, in addition to the preferences of their clients.
“Since this began, our advisors have been working tirelessly to ensure their clients have the latest information available, so they can help travellers make the best personal decisions,” he said. “The industry will get through this, as we have weathered other crises before. Right now, the priority of Virtuoso’s advisors is to focus first on the immediate needs of their clients, then plan for the eventual and transitional return to normalcy of the travel industry, which will require input from both government and industry leadership.”
While he agrees with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19, Kyle Oram, the CEO, KVI Travel feels it is “irresponsible of our governments to take such extreme measures as shutting down or strongly advising against travel, tourism and other activities where people gather in public,” citing that the resulting economic ripple effect could be much more drastic.
“As things are going right now, we are looking at economic recovery in terms of several months, not days or weeks. But I am hoping that level heads will prevail, and we can shorten that time frame,” he said. “The consequences of fear and government advisories around this issue may be dire – layoffs, job losses and bankruptcies will occur in not just the travel industry, but nearly every other industry, as well. While I sympathize with those living in fear of Covid-19, the responsibility needs to be placed on those who are vulnerable to take the necessary precautions, while allowing the rest of the general public to conduct business as usual with heightened sensitivity to hygiene.”
As for how to move forward, Friisdahl said it’s a matter of riding out the storm.
“All we can do is 1) wait, 2) keep our end customer informed daily or weekly and 3) be ready to hit the road sprinting when all this blows over, as there will be many specials and consumers wanting to take advantage of these specials,” he added.
If there’s a silver lining to be seen in this situation, it’s that the value of using a travel agent has been at the forefront, as many travellers who booked on their own have no one who is advocating on their behalf.
“It’s in times of crisis that the value of travel advisors often comes to the fore, and the advisor’s role as client advocate is front and centre,” noted Morgan. “Take that role to heart, and make sure clients know you are there to provide them with accurate, real-time information, much of it cultivated through years of relationship-building with partners across the globe. Help clients make the best decision possible for them as individuals, whether that means cancelling, postponing or pivoting to a different destination.”
Rendez-vous Canada 2020 has been cancelled.
In a message to the industry, posted on the Rendez-vous Canada website, Destination Canada’s chair, Ben Cowan-Dewar and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s president and CEO, Charlotte Bell, wrote:
“We know these are difficult times within the tourism sector. We know there is a lot of uncertainty around what our world will look like next month, next week, and even tomorrow. On behalf of Destination Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, we are writing to assure you that we are in this together, as we face unprecedented times.”
The message from Cowan-Dewar and Bell continues:
“With increased Canadian (local, provincial and federal) and foreign government restrictions, and an increasing number of large-scale events around the world cancelling in efforts to fight and contain the spread of COVID-19, the situation has evolved consistently and rapidly. Destination Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, have been in regular and frequent contact about Rendez-vous Canada 2020, which was scheduled to take place in Quebec City from May 5-8.”
As a result, they wrote:
“It is with heavy hearts that we have made the decision to cancel Rendez-vous Canada 2020.”