I mentioned in my editor’s letter in Recommend’s April issue that one of the silver linings from this current crisis was that consumers would place even more value in travel advisors. For the past few weeks, you have been working tirelessly to get your clients back home, as well as canceling and rescheduling bookings, and you are doing it, as ASTA’s CEO and president Zane Kerby said in an interview with Recommend, by “spending long days, and many of them weeks and months, cancelling and rebooking those dream vacations and business conferences and are essentially working for free to do that.”
So we tip our hats to you, because you are your clients’ heroes.
Advisor, Supplier Relationships Matter
Lauren Doyle, executive v.p. of The Travel Mechanic and a member of Ensemble Travel Group, for instance, helped clients get back from Thailand with the help of local supplier partner Trails of Indochina. Doyle had clients stranded in Thailand and she was closely monitoring the situation when the State Department announced the Level 4 advisory, and she knew then that her clients had to get home. They, like everyone else, could not get through to the airline so Doyle worked directly with Trails of Indochina. Since nobody was able to reach the airline directly to change the ticket, Doyle instructed her clients to go to the airport to get it done there given how time sensitive it was. Trails of Indochina stepped in to take them to the airport and waited with them while their ticket was changed. Doyle was literally on the phone with her clients as they were at the ticket counter to walk them through what to do during such a stressful situation. The ticket was exchanged and Trails to Indochina took them back to the airport and ensured they made it on the flight.
“Luckily, my amazing relationship with the supplier allowed me to ask a favor and check on my client in county,” says Doyle. “Clients called me while they were also talking to the ticket agent (in Phuket airport). I was able to assure them that that was the best flight (they got a flight out the next day) for NO extra charge. I calmed them down and we went over a few other safety measures. My supplier then took my clients back to the hotel to enjoy their last few hours on the white sandy beaches of Phuket before a long travel day ahead. My clients were so thrilled and very thankful for my help. We communicated via WhatsApp until they safely reached on U.S. soil.
“As my mom, who is president of The Travel Mechanic, always says, ‘We are only as good as our last trip we have planned,’ and this has really taught me that relationships are at the core. Not only with our clients, but colleagues and other travel industry cruise lines and suppliers. The situation, as troubling as it is, does have some silver linings. We have learned which suppliers have been there for us and who we want to align with moving forward. We hope our clients have seen that too.”
“I remembered I was out with friends when the president announced the travel ban and I knew the industry would be forever changed.”
— Lauren Doyle, Executive Vice President, The Travel Mechanic
Take Your Role as Advisor Seriously
Avery Harris, director of marketing at Viking Travel, a member of Ensemble Travel, has a similar story of working with a ground supplier to get his clients back to the U.S. Harris had clients booked on an Oceania cruise from Lima to Buenos Aires departing on March 15. Prior to the cruise, he had set up several days in Cusco and Lima with Way to Go Tours, an Ensemble Preferred partner, so the clients could experience Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, and other sites. The day the clients were flying to Lima, they decided to cancel their cruise, but continue with the land portion. So, first thing Harris did was to immediately secure future cruise credits from Oceania while the clients were in the air.
The clients were expecting to spend six days on their pre-arranged land portion then fly home. After continuing to Cusco for a few days, they got back to Lima the day Peru initiated the closure of borders and full stop of commercial flights. The clients headed to the airport to see if they could get the last flight out, which was overbooked by five passengers. The airline closed the service desk while the clients were in line and all the employees left. They then went to another airline desk and got in line. Harris was on the phone with them the whole time. He called Way To Go and informed them of the situation; they got in touch with their local operator in Lima, and had someone meet his clients at the airport to provide some reassurance and assistance. All commercial flights out of Peru were subsequently cancelled that day (Monday, March 16). Harris and his team got the clients back to their hotel in Miraflores while desperately working to get them home. There were over 3,000 Americans stuck in Peru. The local operator they had been using had heard of a tiny handful of humanitarian charter flights possibly operating. They tried to get them on one on Thursday, March 19 to no avail. But, they then found out about another charter to Miami and got them on that flight. To make matters even more challenging, the government had also stopped taxi services, but because Harris was using a trusted local operator, they were able to confirm private airport transfers from Miraflores to the Lima airport. The clients finally arrived in the U.S.
“Sending clients all over the world, I take my role as advisor very seriously,” says Harris. “I spend a lot of time reading news and current events for the whole Blue Marble. I first recall reading about an outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei in late December. I spent January and most of February telling clients not to believe the data coming out of China, but it looked like they were trying to quell the outbreak and keep it isolated. I remember specifically saying to multiple people that it may hit us, but we’ll be fine in the long run after some initial problems. I wouldn’t say that I was wrong, but I really did not expect COVID-19 to so rapidly shutter the global economy in the major way it has. I reacted by doing what I think a lot of us do in times of great uncertainty, I put my head down and got to work. I went through every booking I had and quickly tried to determine exactly what would need to be done with each.”
“If we’re selling the world, it’s our job to know what’s going on in it.”
— Avery Harris, Director of Marketing, Viking Travel
“We live in a world of immediate gratification and in a crisis scenario that plays out in a very emotional way, both for travel advisors and our clients,” says Harris. “In early March, when we all were realizing this was going to severely impact us, it was natural to try to address all the issues at once and take care of everyone immediately. I soon realized that being patient, and seeing how things developed, while also being aware of cancellation schedules, change/refund policies, was more important than just doing exactly what clients were clamoring for on the spot. I was already practicing this, but I see a lot of travel advisors who don’t: if you call yourself an advisor, you MUST be able to advise with a foundation of facts and knowledge based in real world information.”