Travel Experts, a host agency with more than 500 independent travel advisors, is confident that the thousands of ICs across the U.S. will survive and eventually thrive thanks to a combination of assistance from the host agency executives as well as cooperative efforts with ASTA, Virtuoso and a slew of other host agencies banding together to help communicate during this unprecedented disruptive time in the travel industry.
“We have all been sharing information,” said Sharon Fake, director of operations for Travel Experts, in a press release statement, adding: “Virtuoso has a collaborative team doing conference calls and we have been exchanging information with more than a dozen other host agencies.”
Fake noted that “Agencies have not gotten good press and most of the public has not seen any positive press about how the travel advisors are dealing with this crisis and helping the consumers.”
“Travel is an essential industry and the travel advisors are the consumer advocates,” said Susan Ferrell, president of Travel Experts, in a press release statement, adding: “Travel advisors, the brick and mortar agencies and thousands of ICs, have been the unsung heroes for millions of consumers as vacation plans have been dashed by the exploding COVID-19 crisis over the past few months.”
Ferrell noted: “These travel advisors have come to the rescue of the public at a tremendous personal cost to them. Rather than earning money, they were getting refunds for their clients.”
Holly Lombardo, Classic Travel Advisors, a Travel Experts member in Atlanta, GA, said in a press release statement: “Originally clients were initiating input asking me about what I knew. Then it moved to what are the cancellation terms and insurance coverage terms. In retrospect , it really is quite amazing how much my clients looked to me to help weed through the unclear information put out by the government and the news outlets.”
Jeffrey Traugot, Traugot Travel, a Travel Experts member in New York City, said in a press release statement: “I have stayed on top of the news and country border closings to keep ahead of my client’s bookings. As much as I would like to have them postpone their trips to save my commission, I did what was in the best interest of my clients. I pushed hotels, DMCs, tour operators to get the clients refunded. And in almost every case my clients got refunded even when they had non-refundable bookings.”
Travel Experts executives have been working with its team of travel advisors to support their efforts during this COVID-19 crisis. “We used our crisis communications procedures that were already in place and interacted closely with ASTA and Virtuoso to distill information from the government agencies to put things into a less complicated format for our travel advisors,” said Heather McIntyre, manager of technology & finance for Travel Experts, in a press release statement.
“What they need most are facts. They want to know what to tell their clients. We are trying to help them help their clients,” said Fake. “We arranged the information about our supplier procedures and updated this regularly in an organized and easy to use reference that was accessible to our ICs,” said Fake.
“Everything was, and still is, incredibly confusing and we tried to put things in simple terms,” McIntyre said, adding: “We provided our members with links to where they could get further information they might need and provided shared experiences in case they needed loans.”
McIntyre added: “There are tons of people dealing with all of this and responses from authorities have been slow to come. There has been a lot of conflicting information, especially when it comes to unemployment benefits for independent contractors (ICs). We also talked with attorneys about the charge-backs and commission recalls and provided some answers on how to deal with these issues to our members.”
There has been some good news for travel advisors with some of the suppliers being more understanding. McIntyre said: “We have been fortunate to be able to reach out and get many of our suppliers to be more reasonable. We tried to make them realize that our advisors are fighting for their clients as well as their own economic lives. We’ve seen some strong partnerships forged during these times between some of our suppliers and our travel advisors. We are proud that our advisors have been very professional and have handled these issues in a respectful way.”
For more news on how COVID-19 is impacting the travel & tourism industry, visit Recommend’s Coronavirus Updates Center. For more Agent Tools that can help you get through this crisis, visit recommend.com/agent-tools.