In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the expertise of travel advisors is more important than ever. “Coming out of a crisis, travel agents are needed and demanded by consumers who need advice before they make a decision,” said Alex Zozaya, executive chairman, Apple Leisure Group (ALG), during a virtual press conference.
He said there is much navigating needed about what is open and what is not, what entry protocols are, what quarantine procedures are, and more, and travel advisors are in the optimum position to provide that information.
In addition to stressing the importance of travel advisors as the world slowly reopens after the COVID-19 shutdown, Zozaya said the World Travel and Tourism Council, of which he is vice-chair, will be having a meeting next week with tourism leaders from the G-20 countries, including the U.S., to try to come up with a reopening policy that is unified and eases restrictions and quarantine protocols. The meeting will be led by the Prince of Saudi Arabia for ministers of tourism or equivalent of the G-20 countries.
One of the goals of the meeting is to eliminate quarantines for those who test negative for COVID-19. “This is a solution,” said Zozaya. “These 20 countries represent 80 percent of global tourism. If we agree and support the same protocols, it will be huge progress.”
Optimism Amongst Travel Advisors Grows
Optimism was on hand during the press conference. Jim Tedesco, v.p. of sales, Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV), said things have been looking up, especially the last four weeks. “More people are contacting travel agents. They are starting the conversation about travel, if not actually booking. The future is bright. Consumers will realize the power and importance travel advisors play in the planning process. Those who continue to position themselves as experts in the industry will continue to thrive.”
Jacqueline Marks, ALGV executive v.p., agreed. “Consumers need agents more than ever, that’s clear. We will put them in the best possible position as we think 2021 will be a recovery year, and we look forward to telling that story.”
Scott Wiseman, senior v.p. and general manager, ALG, said the company is ready to help travel advisors as they start the path to recovery. An initiative about to be implemented is “Walking on Sunshine – Rise to Recovery.” It is a collection of tools to keep travel advisors in the know and updated.
He also referred to a quiz ALGV recently sponsored in which 62 percent of participants said they are considering travel no matter how risky. “What you are seeing is a big shift toward people having a desire to travel,” said Wiseman. Plus, 76 percent said they are ready to travel.
At present, Cancun is the most popular destination for travelers, followed by Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, shared Alejandro Reynal, CEO of ALG.
Price Isn’t Most Important
Ray Snisky, ALG president, added that the focus is not on getting the best price. “We are selling many more five-star hotels in the international market in brands that they trust. Top of the quality chain is winning the market share battle strongly,” said Snisky.
Plus, all-inclusives are popular as people are less likely to leave the resort, lessening points of exposure.
“Over the last several months, the benefit of using a travel advisor has been highlighted. Navigating changing air policies, changing hotel policies, I couldn’t imagine booking a trip without one. Hopefully, consumers see that having an advocate there navigating all that change proves how valuable travel advisors can be,” said Mike Ehlers, v.p., groups, ALG.
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