When it comes to outlining all the challenges facing agents right now, Lindsay Schile, Manager & Groups Coordinator at CM Travel, doesn’t know where to begin.
“Some clients are stuck with travel credits that are about to expire as early as the end of this year while others have roughly until March 2022 to rebook their trip,” Schile tells Travel Courier. “Vaccine mixing is a huge issue and when it was first announced I made sure I had both doses of the same vaccine as I was worried about travel restrictions. I am one of the lucky few though, as many Canadians listened to the advice that health authorities gave them and mixed doses — and in some cases had no choice.”
Although many of her clients were happy to receive refunds or lifetime Future Travel Credits from several major tour operators, she says other clients are “beyond upset as they are not being given the same options from the tour operator they booked with.”
Despite going up the ladder as far as possible to resolve the issue, she says there hasn’t been any leniency.
“My hope is that the travel advisor community will be heard and FTC’s will be extended, at the very least,” she says. “I wish I knew when the end was coming. It has been very stressful and at times hopeful but the roller coaster of emotions is taking its toll on so many Canadians. Not just the ones in the tourism industry. I think we will all need a vacation sooner rather than later.”
Another issue impacting bookings in the near future surrounds the implications of kids travelling with their vaccinated parents.
“I was truly hoping for good news on this one but we still face a major hurdle,” she says. “They can travel with their parents and upon return, if their parents are vaccinated, they can all skip quarantine however, but the kids can’t return to school or daycare for 14 days.”
In particular, this is causing a lot of confusion among family and destination wedding groups set to travel this fall.
“Online learning or grandparents/family members watching the kids as parents return to work, are not an option for all families,” she notes. “My hope is that it is amended or an approved vaccine for kids will be available soon.”
Meanwhile, Marion Rose, the president of Elgin Travel & Cruises TravelPlus, says some of her clients are also feeling a time crunch as many tour operators and insurance companies have issued Future Travel Credits that are expiring soon.
“Clients are frustrated with these conditions and there is pressure for answers to many unknowns,” Rose says.
Another major issue that agents face is the reduction of funds and the uncertainty surrounding how long wage and rent subsidies will continue to be extended.
“Then there’s the complications with group refunds and losing tens of thousands of dollars in lost commission and additional correspondence to complete these refunds. With an election coming, we are fearful of being left in a holding pattern that is not sustainable,” she says. “The industry has lost so much talent to other careers, as our advisors could not survive on the now $270.00 per week from CERB. It is difficult to remain optimistic to our consumers, but we do our best to put on a smile, take the calls and questions without income or onward bookings. My heart goes out to every travel professional that has made it this far. They have done this to keep their clients informed and compensated, all at their own emotional expense.”
With a level 4 Canadian travel advisory still in place on cruising, one B.C.-based agency owner has been reticent to market cruises for the fall because of the difficulties with procuring insurance for COVID-19 if clients travel.
“In a normal year we would be very busy right now. This year, we are not marketing travel, especially cruise, because we are still in a dilemma,” she says. “That is the greatest impact right now – the advisory itself. People are definitely wanting to and are willing to travel, so this is a difficult issue for travel agencies, and we are concerned that many travellers are travelling and unaware of their lack of coverage.”
Speaking to Travel Courier anonymously, she points out that another difficulty that may be looming is that flexible conditions for bookings may end as the world opens up.
“Part of the reason that people are willing to book is because of the flexibility in place right now and we are not sure what impact the return to more normal terms and conditions may have. That is, of course, unless they are extended,” she says. “As we look forward, we also see that many of the passengers that are anxious to travel have already booked for 2022, and that includes Americans. So for anyone that is waiting, we are starting to see availability shrink, and really encourage them to book now, travel later.”