How are travel advisors responding to the COVID-19 crisis?
LARRY MOGELONSKY, MBA, P. Eng.
In the first part or a two-part panel discussion, author and hotel specialist Larry Mogelonsky talks with travel advisors about how their role is changing in the world of COVID-19 and a whole lot more.
The current pandemic is a defining event for the travel industry. What was considered ordinary is now highly complex, if even feasible. But like any watershed moment, it’s also an opportunity for innovation.
To discuss the future of travel, I conducted a roundtable with five retail travel veterans who have been through 9/11 and the 2008 financial meltdown.
Panelists included: Michael Kroeker, President of Bonaventure Travel; Carton Montaut, CEO of Carlton Montaut Travel; Kyle Oram, CEO of KVI Travel; Mel Stewart, Manager of Maritime Travel; Lola Vassiliadis, General Manager of Cruise Holidays Oakville.
What can hotels do to capitalize on their TA-client relationships?
Vassiliadis: They need to provide the most up-to-date information on their properties. What measures are they taking to keep our clients safe? What changes can the customer expect to see when they arrive at the property? What protocols do they have in place should another crisis happen?
Oram: They must help get TAs out to explore their products. In cases where occupancy is low, offer free TA accommodations to entice agents to explore their properties and gain firsthand knowledge of the experience offered at their properties.
Montaut: Hotels and resorts should stop offering perks to lure clients to book directly with them and bypass the TA. They also need to act on special requests put through by the TAs like birthday celebrations, anniversary or milestone celebrations. TAs are very loyal to those that treat guests well.
Kroeker: Hotels are going to have to work with us to capitalize on our existing relationships with our corporate clients. Working with the agency channel to promote programs like the WWHP and Select will be paramount in rebuilding the business.
What will it take to revive the cruise industry?
Stewart: For ocean cruises, especially large ships, they will need to reduce capacity, provide detailed health safety procedures and ensure social distancing, while all-inclusive may help to entice some passengers.
Montaut: They got the ugliest media coverage during COVID-19. The industry will need to instill confidence in the public regarding their safety while cruising. They must make their disinfecting protocol public as well as increase measures to screen guests before they board ships. For this, seeing is believing. The consumer needs to see people cruising again without any of the negativity and fears associated with cruise lines. This can be done with a strong partnership created between TAs and cruise lines. There are millions of avid cruisers and they are out there waiting to start cruising again.
Vassiliadis: Cruisers will always be cruisers and they are not deterred by the negative press cruise lines have received throughout this pandemic. They know the steps the cruise lines will take to make sure they are safe and happy. First-time cruisers will be more reticent to try a cruise right now. Until they see family members, friends or coworkers return without any incidence they will stick to land vacations. The onus will be on us – the travel advisors and the cruise lines – to make sure the cruising public knows how well the ships have been sanitized to ensure their safety. And then it takes time.
Kroeker: Our preferred cruise partners have really stepped up through the crisis, many offering additional future cruise credits up to 125% of our client’s initial booking which is fantastic. I believe that the small cruise companies will become more attractive to consumers; smaller luxury lines will benefit as they offer lower passenger counts along with higher levels of service. Mass market companies will have to strategize by altering venues onboard so that they can practice social distancing. I also believe that things like the self-serve buffet and inside cabins will be a thing of the past.
How important is experiential travel in future travel advisor activities?
Vassiliadis: We have seen quite an increase in experiential travel and expect this to keep growing in 2021 and 2022. Today’s travellers are looking for more than just immersing themselves in the culture and history of the places they are visiting. They are looking for more in-depth personal experiences, whether it be cooking classes in Tuscany, shopping with the chef from your cruise ship, wine tastings in Portugal, cycling along the Rhine, photography in Vietnam or voluntourism in Latin America.
Kroeker: Experiential travel will be very important in future TA activity. Smaller groups or individuals focusing on sustainable, enriching experiences with purpose will definitely impact the future of travel. There will always be a market for leisure travel but, if anything, this pandemic has brought light to the fact that we need to pay closer attention to our surroundings.
Montaut: TAs will have to get out there to learn and experience more destinations, resorts, cruises and so forth. Going forward, I feel clients will depend more on TAs to book their vacations. They will want our assurance to send them somewhere they feel safe but yet have the full experience of a new culture and destination. People are going to invest their travel funds more wisely. There will be more of a purpose to travel and to meet up with friends and loved ones to celebrate a milestone.
Stewart: Since it generally involves close contact, health safety procedures will always be paramount. Experiential travel will become much more attractive since it involves smaller groups and can put a familiar group together. It will probably be 2022 at the very least before people are comfortable traveling to third-world countries but I can see specialized small group travel finding a very lucrative niche market.
One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Mogelonsky at email@example.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.
Reprinted with permission