That Was Then, This is Now: The Post-COVID Traveler

This week, ASTA held its virtual conference, and during that conference a group of panelists discussed “The Psychology of the Sale—Qualifying and Understanding the Post-COVID-19 Traveler,” moderated by Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion.

During the session, Ron Gualaskey, v.p. of Harr Travel, points out five things travelers are currently looking for, and they are:

  1. Closer-to-home locations
  2. Traveling in small packs of people—not traveling in big groups like they used to, instead they’re looking for their favorite people and traveling with them
  3. A relaxing vacation—an escape or break
  4. People are looking to spend more money now
  5. Shorter trips—5 nights or less

Kareem George, founder and principal, Culture Traveler, says he feels advisors need to be more nimble now “than ever. People are asking for shorter windows,” he says, so they have their drive lists ready based on geographic locations to suggest where clients can go.

People are rescheduling for 2021 and also requesting travel for 2022, he notes. “With all of these scenarios, we’re having to be really thoughtful and going through that the experience might be different when they get there—so manage those expectations. And be very clear about what the change policy may be, what the refund policy is. I think more than anything we’re trying to be very proactive and staying present and visible, getting our message out,” adds George.

Setting Customer Expectations on What Might Change About the Travel Experience in the Near Future


Advisors need to inform travelers what every aspect of their trip will look like in this new normal.

Jim Tedesco, v.p. sales, ALG, says, “Even in the supplier scenario, we have an obligation to help advisors set that expectation. I take it back to 9/11, everyone was afraid to fly again. And as advisors, we had to help set that expectation and go over the safety protocols. It’s very similar. The difference now is that people used to get on the plane, and they’d take a deep breath and then they’d land and they could let that breath go and enjoy themselves. Where as now, we have to set that expectation from start to finish. That person may take the same vacation 10 years in a row, but now it’s going to be a little different. So we need to make sure we’re setting that expectation as to what the airplane looks like, what the airport security looks like, when you get your transfer, when you get to the hotel. Setting up those expectations will help the overall experience, and I think the advisor will come out showing the value they provide.”

“In the travel industry, if you can experience it yourself you can explain it to your customers,” says Danny Genung, CEO, Harr Travel. “Not every agent is going to be able to do that. We went to Cabo a few weeks ago, we’re on our way to Cancun in a few weeks. So that’s the in-person, first-hand knowledge. But, what I would recommend is tapping into your network because what I’m seeing now is that although I can’t go everywhere, I know a lot of agents who I work with, and also throughout the entire industry, who are traveling. So every time we’ve been looking to book a resort, that’s actually who I go to first—one of my colleagues, or one of my BDMs, as a lot of them are traveling now too and they can give first-hand experiences; and believe it or not, there are FAM trips happening as well and I always recommend that. The other resource I want to mention, and this isn’t perfect in every destination, are the tourism boards, which have phenomenal resources. For them, this is the only reason they exist—to make sure customers understand the destination. And I recommend a few days before a trip, reaching out to the hotel itself, and let your clients know about those things they may be concerned about,” he adds.

Regarding small group bookings, Tedesco says, “We’ve seen the rebooking for groups really strong. Now we are starting to get into the FIT rebookings, but we had just over 2,000 rebook fairly quickly. What we’re starting to see is that they do want to go on vacation, they do also want to create a little bit of their own fun. Just like we have our social distancing BBQs in our friend’s backyard, people are taking that same concept into group travel to their vacations as well. We’re starting to see small group travel, our FIT groups, picking back up.” And Tadesco suggest agents, “Start selling the features of traveling in small groups because it’s becoming very popular; people feel almost more secure by traveling with friends than by themselves.”

Genung references the ease of using Zoom and video to reach your clients. “Everybody now seems to be familiar with Zoom, even grandma and grandpa,” he says. “People have had to get on, and have formed new groups.”

For example, he mentions how he’s interacting more with parents at his daughter’s school now. “I’m interacting with parents that I never interacted with before, simply because my 4-year-old is on Zoom sometimes. There are all these new groups that are starting and people are comfortable with them, and they’ve been sharing their personal [space]—we’ve all be sharing how we feel. I have a group that I meet with once a week that we never were really able to make time for each other before. I do think it’s going to be small for a while. What we’re finding is a couple of couples, or a couple of families, are together as it is at home.”

Gualaskey agrees: “Danny said it best, everyone has this new bubble of group of friends they never had before or it seems like they didn’t have the time for. The biggest thing as a travel advisor is that you’re taking the time for now, because maybe you were too busy before, is having virtual group nights.”

Remind clients, that even familiar trips, might look a little different for now.

What are the Clients Booking Travel Asking You?

Genung says what we have already noticed as a trend for many, “Health and safety is at the top of every single list.” But he adds, “People want to be heard, they want you to understand that what they’re looking for is no longer what’s in the brochure. That, anyone can provide. They can click on the links and find it all. But what they want is that in-depth personal knowledge and experience. And that’s why at the end of all this—and I know it’s been tragic and brutal for so many people—but at the end of the day, what I’m finding are people who have never booked with a travel advisor before are coming to one because they’re looking for that personal service, that understanding, that empathy. That’s what this is all about.”

He adds that, “To me this is a perfect time to learn more about who your customers are because they’re sharing things with you that they may have never shared before. And also, that goes along with aspirational dreams. People have a lot of time to dream right now. So put hope on the calendar—I have a client who just booked a 2023 safari because they want to have that to look forward to and they let me know how exciting it was to even just start looking at pictures and digging through information. Some of those things that weren’t as important to them before, or they simply didn’t have time for before, because we were going at a million miles an hour every single day, are now.”

George adds that supplier partners have been really resourceful as they know health and safety is #1. “But we need to have the tools,” he adds. “We need to show them what the protocols are. Many of our suppliers have been spot on with PDFs, videos about how spaces are being cleaned, and how staff is being trained. This has been key in resuming consumer confidence.”

What Conversations Should Advisors be Having with Customers That Maybe They Didn’t Have Before?

Remind clients you can book charters, too, if that might make them feel more safe.

Tedesco says that by having a Zoom call and seeing their background, and seeing their house, and seeing things around—it starts conversations that you probably wouldn’t have had prior. “You’re starting to get to know your clients probably better than you had before,” he says.

Adding that as far as the qualifying section of it, they’re starting to see more personal questions.

What have You Seen Advisors Do to Gage Customers’ Readiness for Travel?

Since not everyone is on the same page, Tedesco says “Empathy. As Advisors that’s the biggest thing. Our job as advisors is to really guide them, not necessarily tell them. So we need to listen. We need to provide the information they need to hear to make an informed decision. And when they’re ready, we’re ready. Everyone is going to adjust to whatever our new normal is at different paces, our job is to provide them the information to get them there at their own pace when they’re ready for it.”

What Changes Have You Made to Your Businesses to Help You Keep Up with This New Normal?

George notes two main changes his company has made during this time. “1. How we engage with our clients. We’ve always had a service retainer, but we’ve found that now our clients understand that this is a difficult time and they want to participate and engage with us. I’ve revamped a service program for all levels of engagement—asking about hotels and flights, to cruises and land. It’s been received very well, and many clients have said thank you that they feel they’re contributing to our business and they want to support the business. 2. The other thing is social media. We’ve always done a fairly good job of social media, but we’ve elevated it. We have a campaign every week and we’re on multiple platforms. There are hundreds of clients that we’re in touch with every week, just by sending out that information. It can be a chat message that leads to a text that leads to coffee. But we’re getting to know people on a deeper level than ever before. “

For Genung it’s all been about communication and the way it’s done. “What we realized is that it’s very important to communicate in a large scale way, and then pull it back on the individual level. We learned quickly by sending e-mails that some customers wanted information updates all the time, while others were like, ‘I have other stuff that’s important to me right now.’ So we started doing Live streams and it was a huge sales boost for us. And, all that we did and all that we continue to do, is just explain what we do as advisors. I think that’s so important now. Previously, it was about, ‘Can you match this price? Or why should I do this or that?’ Where now it’s really more about, ‘What do I need to do?’”

He notes that, “The FCC have been incredibly confusing for a lot of people.” However, they’ve had a lot of people come to them for help with those. “We’ve had a ton of people come in and book those,” says Genung.

He also says the conversation surrounding travel insurance has changed a lot. “For travel insurance, having an in-depth conversation, even before we close the sale,” is essential now. “That was something I used to talk about post-sale. But now, it’s really digging into—‘Are you going to feel comfortable?’ And understanding what the various companies are doing.”

Right now, says Genung, “Just demonstrating your expertise as advisors is more important than ever. I know a lot of people are intimidated to get on video, but for us, we’ve had record sales three months in a row, and it’s simply because people are finding experts right now and we happen to have a good presence on YouTube. But with the Live streams, anybody can do that. Just explain to your customers—this is what I did today, this is why it was challenging, but also, this was just a tough day. And, people really understand that with you, and it cultivates that great back and forth.”

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