Along with great advice on how travel agents can spend their downtime, he also suggests why agents maybe even more important once restrictions are lifted.
How has coronavirus impacted the corporate operations of Travellers Choice?
Travellers Choice is predominantly a marketing services company and of course in the current environment there are no travel products to promote.
Instead we have found other ways to provide support – from sourcing vital information and ensuring our members have access to the latest supplier updates, to helping them address specific issues around the likes of refunds and customer queries.
In addition, we’ve been helping members stay connected with their customers using the many digital channels we provide.
What impact has it had on your network as a whole?
Like every other travel agency business our members have effectively spent the last month undoing all of the hard work they did over the previous 12 months –which has meant unravelling forward sales, repatriating clients from overseas, organising refunds, etc.
And there have been some amazing stories of how our members have supported their customers in this time of need. Just as impressive has been the support members have shown each other.
The sense of community and camaraderie has been particularly evident through our private Facebook group, TC Connect, where we’ve seen members sharing contacts and supplier information, working together to decipher ambiguous fare regulations, or just finding ways to lift others’ spirits.
It’s been inspiring to see them work together as one.
What reactions have Travellers Choice agents been getting from their customers?
Consumers have been scared, frustrated, confused and angry. And while our members have been able to help many customers, they have also on occasion had to deliver some unwelcome news in relation to cancellation policies and suppliers not providing full refunds.
As a result they have experienced the full gamut of emotions –from legal threats to customers bringing in gifts and even offering financial support.
Are you concerned that the Travellers Choice brand will be irretrievably damaged by this crisis?
Not in the slightest. I think it could be quite the opposite in fact.
There is potential for Travellers Choice members to emerge from this crisis with an even stronger brand because of the way they have gone the extra mile to support their customers.
Some extraordinary stories are being told and they are resonating in the community. The way Travellers Choice itself has responded has also been deeply appreciated by our members and that is helping forge an even stronger bond.
How do you see the travel industry recovering from this crisis?
In a word: slowly. You don’t need to be Einstein to see that it will take a long time for international travel to come back.
It will clearly start with domestic travel because that is likely to be the only product available. Then there will be an inevitable expansion to include selected international destinations, possibly New Zealand or the South Pacific.
The cruise sector has of course taken some hard knocks, but it has a loyal passenger base and I’m confident they will play an instrumental role in its recovery.
Do you think travel agents will be even more relevant once this crisis is over?
I sense they will be. Some consumers will have used a travel agent and been looked after, others may have booked online or directly and had a less positive experience.
Experiences will of course be spread across a broad spectrum, but I think the value that travel agents bring will have never been clearer.
Are there any positives that can be taken from this situation?
Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty negative situation. If there is one positive it’s that travel agents have been given something they’ve never had before – the gift of time.
For the next couple of months, very little business will be coming through the door and cancellations and re-bookings will have been taken care of. That means agents have a rare opportunity to work on their business; to do the things they’ve been too busy to do before.
It could be training, database management, devising rebound strategies or becoming a domestic travel expert.
What matters is that when business comes back we are all primed and ready to seize the opportunities. It’s the only positive I can find –and trust me I’ve been digging around for something!
Finally, what are your tips for passing the time in self-isolation?
Take the opportunities that are there. Stay focused, be disciplined, get up and – even though you are at home – go to work.
Use the time you’ve got wisely. And of course look after yourself – mentally and physically – and be kind to each other.
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