Come in, we're reopen!
A Q&A with Stuart Morris, General Manager, Retail, for SellOffVacations
COVID-19 has been challenging for the travel industry. How did SellOffVacations support agents during this time?
In only a few days we had our agents up and running from home – calls were routed to them seamlessly just like if they were working in our stores or in our call centre.
Over the last five years we’ve seen growth year over year, and much of this success has been driven by our focus on operations – giving agents the tools they need to work efficiently and make their lives easier. I think this mindset and experience helped us shine during this challenge.
Now that your retail locations have reopened, how are you feeling about the recovery of the industry?
My optimism goes up and down every day. Our agents continue to have good discussions with clients. There is a lot of pent up demand. Of course, some people are more comfortable than others. We’re doing bookings for this fall and winter, but with the vast majority of people the first steps are small and tentative.
I know we’re only in the early stages, but how have staff and clients responded to the new health and safety protocols in place at your locations?
It has gone very well! Keeping our health and safety protocols consistent across the board ensures our teams know what to expect in each location, and lets them know we truly have their best interest at heart. With every change comes challenges, we’ve had a few customers who had issues with wearing masks and refused to provide contact information, but our teams are prepared to handle each issue as it arises letting customers know we can only service them if they are willing to comply with our health and safety protocols. Our priority is to make sure our agents are safe and secure.
We’re at the six months mark of the global pandemic. How’s business and bookings right now? Is anything surprising or interesting?
The people we are talking to are gravitating to a place they’ve been to in the past. That familiarity is comforting – it removes a layer of doubt. We’ve been surprised by how many people want to go big – to go to a nicer resort than they have in the past or to upgrade their room category. We know some people find themselves with more money in their chequing account than they’ve ever had. They’re looking to treat themselves after hunkering down at home for months. Some people sitting on travel credits are treating that like money found in their fall jacket when they put it on for the first time this season.
What strategies do you have in place to help travel advisors over the next few weeks/months?
We’ve been getting a great response to our Wednesday Webinars and we’ve been getting great participation from our suppliers – it’s made for a quick paced informative sessions. We’re giving agents the tools to have professional discussions with shoppers and existing clients. Overall, we’re thinking optimistically. That means continuing to market aggressively.
When are you predicting a rebound and what will that look like?
The launch of free COVID coverage by Sunwing and others is a big step in the right direction. It removes one more obstacle. Cooler mornings will put sunny vacations back in people’s heads. Mandatory quarantine periods are one of the deterrents of travel right now. When mandatory quarantines were lifted in the UK google search queries for “flights to Spain” instantly doubled. I’m hopeful we will enjoy a similar surge in travel when mandatory quarantines are lifted for us.
Are bookings coming in despite the current restrictions in place in Canada?
The Canadian airlines have all reported that they’ve been down massively – we haven’t fared much better. That said, we worked hard all summer and we’ve been connecting with thousands of customers, so we know we will do better than the agencies who didn’t put in the work. We think we will be more aggressive than most of our peers this fall. That also bodes well for our agents.