The world has turned upside-down and in the last month the travel & tourism industry has come to an almost complete halt due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Travel advisors have been busy fielding clients’ calls—whether travelers were rescheduling, cancelling, or were grounded in another country not knowing how they would get back home. And through it all, travel advisor networks and organizations such as Ensemble Travel Group, TRAVELSAVERS, Virtuoso and others have been guiding members through this unprecedented crisis, providing tips that are useful now and for future success.
TRAVELSAVERS, for example, has introduced a series of motivational webinars, client-facing assets and ongoing tips to assist travel professionals. “If there is anything our 50th anniversary has taught us, this will pass,” says the organization’s CMO, Nicole Mazza. “While many of our advisors have weathered difficult times including the last recession and 9/11, for some business owners, this is the first major crisis of their professional lives. They need reassurance that the industry has been through difficult times before and that together, we will make it through this situation. We are lending a comforting and knowledgeable ear, providing suggestions when asked and being a steady source of support. We are also offering tools necessary to assist our agents on rebuilding consumer confidence when the time is right.”
Ensemble Travel Group is also providing tools and resources that members are able to use to help clients make travel decisions that are “best for them,” says Ensemble Travel Group’s CEO David Harris, including weekly updates; sharing regular posts on social media; and creating a page on its Member Portal with regular updates from all of the relevant State Departments for the U.S. and Canada as well as public health agencies and trade industry organizations.
“It is important to note,” says Harris, that “travel is one of the economic sectors that bounces back quickly from a global crisis. We have weathered many storms in the past, from 9/11 to a global recession to SARS and H1N1. On another positive note, there has been a lot of media attention given to the value and benefits of working with a professional travel advisor. Our members have been working overtime to help their clients rebook a trip, assist with cancellations where needed and provide the kind of personal and professional guidance that travelers really do appreciate and depend on in times like these.”
Virtuoso’s Crisis Response Toolkit is an always-available resource that they update continuously for members and their advisors every time there’s a situation that could potentially disrupt travel and tourism, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, even previous health events. The toolkit includes real-time updates from preferred partners and links to resources like State Department warnings and the CDC.
Members also have access to videos that cover everything from situations advisors are likely to encounter to how to communicate in a crisis, as well as how to work with clients. “Virtuoso recommends role play within agencies between advisors or with managers to help rehearse answers and gain comfort in handling what may feel like uncomfortable circumstances,” says David Kolner, Virtuoso’s sr. v.p. of global member partnerships.
Kolner notes that some of Virtuoso’s clients are “booking travel a few months or more into the future. Virtuoso advisors are encouraging clients to think about future travel opportunities, looking ahead to recovery and the longer-term horizon.”
Arming Travel Advisors
Cruise Planners has been supporting its nation-wide network of home-based travel advisors in a variety of ways, including hosting live webinars with cruise line executives such as John Chernesky, Vicki Freed, Dondra Ritzenhaler, and Adolfo Perez; creating
talking points and guides for sensitive client conversations and tips to maintain sales/postpones for future travel dates; and creating additional marketing, social media and video content.
Travel Leaders Group, too, has been arming its travel advisors with webinars such as “COVID-19: What You Should Know About Coronavirus and Insurance,” as well as supplier updates, and fliers that offer tips on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak that advisors are encouraged to share with clients.
Says Peter Vlitas, sr. v.p. of airline relations for Travel Leaders Group,
“It’s important to stay close to your clients and stay in touch with them. Even if they cancel a trip, it’s necessary to be there for them and assist in changes. Show them the value and the service we deliver. They may not book today, but they will remember we were there with them and they will be there in the future.”
TIPS FOR YOU
• Sign up for webinars that offer advice on getting through the crisis
• Role play within the agency to help rehearse what to say to clients
• Create talking points & guides for sensitive client conversations
• Stay up-to-date on alerts coming out of the State Department and CDC, as well as public health agencies
• Alert clients to updates from suppliers
• Remain proactive with clients and keep an open line of communication
Cruise Planners: cruiseplanners.com
Ensemble Travel Group: joinensemble.com
Travel Leaders Group: travelleadersgroup.com/who-am-i/travel-advisors