If nothing else, the pandemic has taught travel advisors to take stock of their strengths, and how they can capitalize on them.
For Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel, communication with her clients has proved to be one of her top assets. “I am friendly but also tell it like it is. I did not try to sugarcoat anything and was prepared to offer options when possible,” she said.
“And when countries such as Italy passed laws banning refunds of deposits, I explained the new reality to affected clients but also left them with a bit of optimism. Right now I have only one property that has not refunded. They still might refund as we move into fall. Both my client and the property know that I am not giving up.”
“I tried my usual work habits but realized that was not the best for my clients or myself. I realized I needed to adjust my office hours and make specific appointments with clients so that they and I had everything in front of us before we started talking about options,” said Schoeder, whose agency is an affiliate of Signature Travel Network.
“When I switched to appointments the cancellations and re-bookings went much more smoothly. I did not feel as pressured as I did at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Better yet, Schoeder’s clients appreciated the appointments, as it gave them plenty of time to discuss concerns and options.
“I worked in date order (of travel) and often advised clients that we needed to wait to see what a cruise line, hotel or airline was doing before we made decisions about cancellations,” she said. “Working strictly off appointments was difficult for me at first, as I am used to my clients calling whenever they want to chat, but it worked best for me and the cancellations and re-bookings did not get away from me.”
For his part, Cal Cheney of Bucket List Travel and Tours found out that he is very adept at allaying client concerns. “I’m a pretty good hand holder,” he said, adding that the pandemic also taught him to “be a little more patient.”
Staying in touch with his customers is key to his success going forward. “I think you can’t send out too many fun, informative emails, or make too many calls,” he said.
During the pandemic, marketing has also played a pivotal role in the agency’s business strategy. “I have run six newspaper ads that I knew would yield little or no results and I was right – but I still feel like I am keeping myself in the-top-of-mind-awareness zone for when the times are right, and supporting my hometown newspaper too, which needs to survive.”
Holly Lombardo of Classic Travel Advisors, an affiliate of Travel Experts, noted that the pandemic brought to light agents’ ability to protect their clients’ investments.
“We make things happen for the benefit of our clients,” she said. “The reassurance that we were there for them is invaluable and will certainly be why the advisor-client relationship will thrive.”
Travel advisors have had to routinely grapple with issues that were out of their control, “such as travel vendors changing their terms of service and evoking force majeure [unforeseen circumstances],” Lombardo said. “We are also at the mercy of other countries or states decisions on entry requirements. One day your clients can travel there the next day they cannot. When I have clients traveling now, I hold my breath until they return home!”
In the end, Lombardo believes the pandemic showcased the invaluable nature of the travel/client relationship. “I have even more confidence moving forward in the value I bring to my clients,” she said. “I’m worth every penny.”
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