DIRECTOR, BUSINESS STRATEGY – CANADA VIRTUOSO
1 The last week has been almost surreal with announcements from airlines and tour operators suspending service to the government’s advisory to cancel or postpone all nonessential travel. What’s your reaction?
This is uncharted territory, and a situation that is changing very rapidly. Virtuoso is recommending that its travel advisors take into consideration all government and preferred partner notices in addition to the preferences of their clients. Since this began, our advisors have been working tirelessly to ensure their clients have the latest information available so they can help travellers make the best personal decisions. The industry will get through this, as we have weathered other crises before. Right now the priority of Virtuoso’s advisors is to focus ﬁ rst on the immediate needs of their clients, then plan for the eventual and transitional return to normalcy of the travel industry, which will require input from both government and industry leadership.
2 You’ve been on the road recently at Virtuoso events, what were the key takeaways and reactions you heard from agents on COVID-19?
News of the coronavirus started surfacing shortly before our ﬁ rst major event of the year, our US and Canadian Forum. The timing gave us the opportunity to hear ﬁ rsthand from our members how we could best support them, and this was before new cases started springing up in some of our most popular destinations, like Italy. It allowed us to get in front of our members fairly quickly with resources to assist them as they encountered client concerns.
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been holding events across the country – Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal – that bring our members, preferred partners and even clients together. And in a very short amount of time, we’ve seen the sentiment regarding corona-virus change as new information surfaces. Last week, it was a topic of conversation, but it was based on awareness and not an all-encompassing event. This week is a different story, with newly imposed travel restrictions by various governments ratcheting up concerns for the travelling public.
3 Do you have any advice for continuing to sell travel during this time?
It’s in times of crisis that the value of travel advisors often comes to the fore, and the advisor’s role as client advocate is front and centre. Take that role to heart, and make sure clients know you are there to provide them with accurate, real-time information, much of it cultivated through years of relationship-building with partners across the globe. Help clients make the best decision possible for them as individuals, whether that means cancel-ling, postponing or pivoting to a different destination. Encourage clients to think about future travel opportunities, looking ahead to the recovery and the longer-term horizon. The anticipation of a trip is part of the value travel provides, and advisors can share inspiration for when clients are ready to go. Those of us who have been in the industry for any length of time know that this too shall pass. And when it does, the client-advisor relationships that are rooted in trust will be stronger because of the guidance and assistance advisors are providing during this difﬁcult and rapidly evolving situation.
4 If an agent has a client who wants to cancel or postpone upcoming trips, what is your suggestion on keeping the bookings alive?
People are worried with legitimate concerns, and advisors have to know that part of providing a service to their clients means listening as they voice those concerns. Getting to the heart of it and making sure that clients are making decisions based on fact is key. Pay attention to the timeline, not the headlines. Cancellation policies are so lax right now that clients can take a “wait and see” approach and avoid having to make immediate decisions in many cases. Virtuoso is recommending role play within agencies between advisors or with managers to help rehearse answers and gain comfort in handling what may feel like uncomfortable circumstances. We’ve shared videos and other resources with our member agencies through our Crisis Response Toolkit to provide them with messaging and advice on how to navigate these conversations.
5 Do you have anything to add on the topic?
Because we are a global network, we’re getting constant feedback from our members all over the world. Our members are impacted in varying ways, depending on where they’re based. The one heartening message that continues to resonate is that we’re all in this together. This has very quickly escalated into a worldwide issue and the only way to get through it will be banding together – agency owners and managers, advisors, and preferred partners – we are all interdependent.