Coping with a new reality
How front-line travel agents are dealing with COVID-19
Two weeks ago, COVID-19 had yet to impact on the travel agency business here in Canada and agents were skeptical about the severity of the virus. They were still in the process of selling travel, encouraging their clients to follow through with their March Break plans, and many were in the process of preparing for their own adventures abroad.
Together, we’ve all learned together that a lot can happen in just a matter of days — closed borders, grounded flights, states of emergency and the absolutely incredible job losses in not just in the travel industry, but across every sector of the global economy.
So, how are Canadian travel agents dealing with the worldwide pandemic?
Well, they’re bracing themselves for the potentially long-lasting impacts COVID-19 and the potential impact that subsequent travel restrictions will have on business. But, encouragingly, they remain hopeful.
This week, Canadian Travel Press checks in on a cross-section of agents to hear directly from the front lines how they are coping in these times of uncertainty.
We asked agents:
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
Michelle Green, travel designer for Travel Edge in Toronto, said that: “Right now all we are doing is trouble shooting and refunding. It’s very scary and has caused a lot of stress. We’ve had a huge amount of cancellations because at least 70% of our business is cruise.Our commissions are not protected if the clients are getting a refund. However, in most cases they do not get a refund, but a future cruise credit to travel at a later date. In that case, we keep the commission, but will not get it on their new cruise which we have to do the work all over again.”
Alfiero Cavallo, manager of Verona Travel in Bradford, ON, told CTP that: “After making sure all our passengers were back safely, we had to layoff all our staff as of March 20, 2020. Now, we have to deal with the loss of business for at least the next two months. We hope the impact will not be too bad considering that all these clients have credit vouchers and I have a feeling they will use them sooner rather than later.”
What advice do you have for fellow agents during this difficult time?
Cavallo responded that: “Once people see that others are travelling, they will book and travel also. Maybe we, as agents, need to take the first step and go away to show our clients that it is safe to travel – when the time is right.”
Philip, an agent with Bricks & Mortar Agency, Toronto, ON, said: “In order to prepare for the recovery, plant seeds for group business next year and beyond. And to keep the mood up, do webinars. We want to continue to be excited about all the wonders of the world and our fantastic travel industry partners and friends.
How are suppliers supporting you right now?
Bricks & Mortar’s Philip said: “Amazingly.I am thankful for industry partners who act quickly to address the needs of the travelling public. In many cases the support they provide “evolves” with the situation as can be expected but none of them have responded with “too bad so sad.” We are fortunate in Canada to have airlines, tour operators, cruise line representation, hotel operators who are honest, caring and love this business as much as we do.”
What has it been like on the front lines of selling travel?
Jen Langlois of Suite Trip Travel – TPI in Thorold, ON, told CTP that: “We went from the craziness of high season to not being able to keep up with the flood of cancellations and now absolutely nothing.It’s been a complete whirlwind over the last few weeks and I think we are all just sitting here in shock still not sure what has even happened.”
How are you and your colleagues coping?
Langlois admitted that: “It’s been really difficult. I have been an agent for 14 years, and I have never seen anything like this before. We have really come together as an agent community to work together and hold each other up during this crazy time. I think leaning on your friends and colleagues is the best way to cope with this. I know I will be the first one to the beach once this is all over.”
Are you hopeful about the future of travel?
Travel Edge’s Green responded: “Yes. Clients will travel again and we did have a client call us and ask about booking a family of 26 people to Mexico for Christmas so I think it will just take time.”
While Verona Travel’s Cavallo, said: “Yes, I know that once this is over and done with, we will be very busy in the industry.”
For Suite Trip’s Langlois, the answer was also: “Yes, I am hopeful this will all rebound and we will be better and stronger than ever. I think, if anything, this has reinforced the importance of the role of the travel advisor, because those who booked online themselves have really learned the hard way that they have no support.”