Travel Agents” “Yeaaa, we good.”
Wow. That escalated fast. CoVid-19 or Coronavirus has certainly gotten all of our attention!
Early February, things first started with some of my large client groups deferring their bookings for next year. Then, I started to have other individuals or families decide to hold off on confirming travel bookings for later 2020 that we had been planning. And now we’re into cancellation and re-booking the existing bookings made for the next month or two of March and April. And – folks who are abroad are trying to get home.
It’s been exhausting for all of us – the travel advisors, the travel suppliers, and the traveling clients. To say we’re all in unchartered waters is an understatement of enormous proportions – and this is an industry that has been through SARS, MERS, Avian flu, 9/11, H1N1, Ebola, terrorist attacks, volcanic ash clouds, snowpocalyse, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, bushfires, and more. We know as an industry that we are resilient – and this too shall pass. But when you’re in the middle of a situation, it can seem bleak. Memories of earlier bleak times helps remind us all that we’ve weathered seemingly catastrophic events before. We will weather this too.
To deal with the current situation, I have been putting my clients first. I have been working 14-16 hour days helping clients cancel, change, or defer their travel plans. I’ve been emailing, texting, calling, facetiming, and facebook messaging clients and travel supplier partners. I’ve been sitting on hours’ long holds with travel partner suppliers, only to be disconnected, and then have to start the process all over again. I’ve been tracking news and developments, following which suppliers are still travelling, and updating clients’ accordingly. I’ve been staying on top of travel supplier change and cancellation policies, as well as insurance company policies- which are changing sometimes daily, and sometimes hourly. And I’m working on behalf of my valued clients to do my absolute best to protect their travel investments.
Actually, everyone who works in travel is doing their absolute best to figure out this new and still emerging reality. I had spent hundreds of hours to work with clients in the past to book travel for the next couple of months, always knowing it wouldn’t yield any revenue stream to me until travel had been completed. And now I’m spending hundreds of hours more to unravel, defer, and cancel those booked holidays – all while watching that future income disappear. Of course, I’m waiving any change or cancellation fees to help my clients. Absolutely no one asked for or deserved to be in this situation. But, we’ll soldier on. And I’m working with suppliers as best I can to protect you, as my valued clients.
Right now, as we’re in the midst of this unfolding crisis, it’s worth noting that the travel and tourism industry employs 1 out of 9 people worldwide. In addition, 1 out of 5 new jobs (in each of the last 5 years) has been in travel and tourism. There is a large swath of the global financial stability and markets that are impacted by folks not travelling – and you’re seeing that with flights emptying, and cruise and tours getting cancelled. Everyone is trying to be prudent and protect clients. Sometimes, it seems difficult to separate the reality from what can seem like emerging hysteria (with grocery stores emptying out, and countries entering lockdowns). But, we have to trust the scientists to help us mitigate these risks, flatten the curve, etc. etc. As your travel professional, however, my job is to be your advocate through all of this.
Now, more than ever, the power of the travel advisor is rising to the forefront. (Unfortunately, those who had not booked through a travel advisor, and are trying to make changes now – whether to flights or holidays – are learning that up close and personal. Travel advisors cannot intervene in existing bookings that they did not book.)
Besides answering questions and sharing up-to-date info with my clients on all upcoming bookings for the next couple of years, I’ve been working this week on behalf of my clients – leveraging the relationships I have with these travel partners to call in special favours, where I could, and/or navigate the changing waterfront of cancellation and change penalties to help clients. Obviously, priority must go to those intending to travel in in March, and then April. If your holiday is further out, kindly be patient as we work through developments.
We all know this “this too shall pass,” and I am hopeful it is sooner, rather than later.
Here’s just a sample of some of the work I’ve been doing this week:
- rescued an upcoming AMA Bordeaux river cruise meant to travel this week out of 100% penalty by working with supplier on extending new deposit protection plan, and am now moving client’s booking to November 2021
- rescued an upcoming Uniworld Danube river cruise meant to travel next week to end of June 2020, and worked with Uniworld to price protect client (and am working to rebook air and hotels)
- cancelled a Tauck Costa Rica trip for a family that was meant to travel this weekend when Tauck cancelled all trips for the next 6 weeks, getting clients a refund
- cancelled a trip to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, and worked with my air desk to get travel cancelled the day of travel
- secured a credit for a client’s previously non-refundable non-changeble trip to Small Luxury Hotel partner in Louisiana this week and got hotelier partner to give credit
- secured a favour from an Italian Virtuoso hotel partner to hold off charging an already sent credit card authorization for a summer stay -meant to be non-refundable non-changeable, after Italy went on lockdown
- helped changed various flights to get folks home from Japan, Italy, US, etc.
- rebooked a Windstar booking for special VIP Grand Prix 2020 to 2021, and getting clients secured while other affected passengers rebooking next year
- worked with several clients booked for Uniworld Russia to cancel their bookings, and get older change/ cancellation policy applied
- working on several Scenic river cruises for clients impacted by Scenic cancelling cruises for next 6 weeks – rebooking and/or seeking refunds/ future cruise credits
- cancelling and rebooking several NCL, Celebrity, Azamara, Oceania, and Regent bookings with their new policies
- cancelling Disney holidays
- cancelling several hotel stays in Australia, Europe, Canada, and US
Here are some news links about the situation as it has been emerging over the past 72 hours:
So, the one thing I ask you is that when this crisis settles (and god willing, sooner, rather than later), please book your travel through a travel advisor. Don’t book online. Protect yourself. And seek the services of those who do this for a living – especially those independent advisors like me who are working for free, giving up thousands of dollars in revenue, to help you as our valued client.
When things are going crazy, as they are now – visit your local hotels. Heck, drive to Toronto if you’re in Ottawa (or somewhere near you) – reach out to me for Virtuoso hotels, and I can VIP you at them. They can benefit from you rebooking a March break stay right about now – if only for a day or two. And as a Virtuoso advisor, I can get you special perks.
Think about travelling in Canada – I’m booking trips to Haida Gwaii, Alberta, Rocky Mountaineer, and Newfoundland right now. Visit your backyard.
Think about taking a small ship to Alaska – I have offers with Lindblad Expeditions that are just fantastic. (And Lindblad has a special offer for clients booking new holidays in 2020 – you can get their “Friends for Life” program for free. 10% off all future Lindblad bookings. Ask me for details!)
And contact me to rebook those holidays . I’ll be here to help you with that pent up travel demand when things settle down. And it would be my pleasure to help you travel the world.