Keeping the faith
Operators remain positive, despite pandemic challenges
Some prominent tour operators say the travel industry tailspin resulting from coronavirus hasn’t come close to leading them to losing faith in their industry.
In fact, one – Goway Travel – reports that it’s cautiously optimistic, while the top executive overseeing the Globus family of brands in this country actually seems somewhat bullish about the prospects for the tourism industry.“I’m excited about the future of travel,” Stephanie Bishop says. “This pause has reminded people how special it is to see, explore and discover the world around us: To connect with nature, new cultures, tradition-rich destinations and the people that make each place special. And, I’m confident that the Globus family of brands is in a unique position to have the depth and breadth of travel styles and experiences needed for this long journey back to travel. From small-ship cruises to off-the-beaten-path ports of call and hidden treasures offered through our “Undiscovered” series of tours to the on-site services and care-free confidence our team of experts (tour directors, cruise directors and local guides) provide, we’re ready to show travellers the world and help advisors enhance their sales now and in the future.”
Globus brands have proactively cancelled all tours and cruises through October, providing travellers the option to receive a letter of credit with a booking incentive or a refund. About 50% of those affected by the cancellations have chosen a letter of credit to reset their vacation plans for 2021.
Uptick in inquiries
“As a result, we’re seeing strong bookings across all brands for next year – and beyond – and are looking forward to delivering the world – once again – to travellers,” Bishop states.Meanwhile, Goway president Bruce Hodge labels himself “cautiously optimistic” as he looks to the future.
“We’re seeing more and more people inquiring about travel to countries that have opened their borders. We know that people are eager to travel and feel that when the time is right, there will be a large demand across the industry,” Hodge told Canadian Travel Press.
“However,” he continued: “for things to move in the right direction, the Canadian government will need to implement rapid COVID-19 testing so as to remove the 14-day self-quarantine for travellers returning from abroad, as well as to lift the blanket travel ban to foreign countries.”
Goway dates back to 1970, and Hodge – who founded the company – says it has “learned over the years how to address the concerns of our clients and travel partners and adjust to the ever-changing world of travel. Not only will we continue to work with our agents, partners, and supply chain to ensure that each Goway client has an excellent travel experience, but we’ve prioritized safety and peace of mind in everything we do.”
He cites the likes of Goway Travelmate, a program that guarantees clients have a dedicated destination specialist assigned to each booking, and stays up to date with changing travel conditions and safety protocols “to ensure peace of mind for our travellers. We’ve also got a Priority Phone Line for clients as well as 24/7/365 Priority Assist from anywhere in the world by phone, email, or online chat.
“We’re also emphasizing four cornerstones of safety throughout our line of products, which put the health and safety of our travellers and travel partners at the forefront of our considerations.”
These include: the sanitation of commonly touched areas in tourism destinations; the offering of disinfectant foams and gels upon entry and exit of transit and accommodations, including planes, cars, and hotels; the requirement of face masks for travellers in transit; and the requirement and provision of suitable physical distancing in and around tourism products.
Said Hodge: “We’re one of North America’s oldest and most established travel operators and we continue to adjust to the world’s changing travel conditions and offer travellers the safest and most rewarding travel experience possible.”
Bishop notes that Globus family of brands have also taken steps aimed at reassuring potential clients.
“During this ‹time out,’ we have implemented protocols for our travel brands to build upon the trust, transparency and consumer confidence, advisors and travellers have come to expect from the Globus family of brands,” she reports.
“With help from our Global Health & Safety team, we have developed and invested in pretty incredible on-trip assurances as part of our journey back to travel. We’ve laid out these procedures and protocols in e-brochures (including a “Suite Safe and Sound” guide for Avalon Waterways and a “Trust in Touring” overview for Globus and Cosmos) on our travel agent portal for agents and on our website for their clients. Further, Avalon Waterways’ health and safety guidelines and protocols (the Avalon Assurance Program) have been developed in partnership with IGI Limited, a company that specializes in travel-related health and safety measures, and long-time industry consultant Ian Greaves. Additionally, Avalon’s team includes two Hygiene & Procedure Officers whose roles are to ensure the seamless execution of these protocols across our European fleet. These protocols have received approvals of the World Travel & Tourism Council as well as United States Tour Operator Association.”
“Apart from these new guidelines, our strength lies in behind-the-scenes logistics. Our on-the-ground operations teams in destinations across the globe are ‹in the know’ and ready to deliver the extraordinary vacations travellers expect when they choose Globus, Cosmos, Avalon Waterways or Monograms.”
Time to hone skills
Meanwhile, Bishop says that this is a suitable time for agents to hone their work skills.
“Now is the time for advisors to invest in themselves, their education and expertise while also engaging with their clients to discuss their dreams for their next, great vacation. We’re helping advisors enhance these efforts and opportunities with complimentary webinars and training as well as our Why Book with a Travel Advisor guide – a tool we invite advisors to share with their clients.”
“Transparency and trust are attributes clients value in their advisors. Now more than ever. And we’re there for our partners, providing them everything they need to offer their clients care-free confidence for their next getaway, including our 2021 Peace of Mind Travel Plan and robust on-trip procedures and protocols for Avalon Waterways, Globus, Cosmos and Monograms.”
Bishop notes her brands have a support team that includes BDMs that are a phone call away for agents to use when needing extra insight or reassurance.
Hodge in turn adds that the pandemic has prompted Goway to take steps that will make agents’ work easier.
“We are a flexible travel company that prioritizes personalization and safety,” he says. “We have introduced new flexible booking conditions that help agents plan for clients who are ready to commit to future travel (you can read about our updated policies here). We’ve found these flexible conditions to be valuable tools in helping agents secure future bookings for their clients. We’ll also be extending our future travel credits to apply to booking before July 31, 2021 for travel up to Dec 31, 2022.”
“We’ve also been focusing on personalized travel experiences for individuals and small groups of travellers, such as private-guided touring, bubble travel, nature-based outdoor activities, rural vacations, and walking tours. Goway has always offered customizable products for our individual clients and we’ll continue to adjust to suit our client’s needs, personalizing vacations to make travellers as comfortable as possible,” he continues.
Heart of the business
Meanwhile, Sally Mikhail of GMTours says her clients can postpone their group 2020 bookings to next year without any fee and 2021 is looking somewhat better than this year.
Mikhail labels agents the “heart of this business” and GMTours is reaching out to them through different means, including newsletters.
“For travel agents, it’s time to consider which supplier had your back in this tough time,” she continues. “Who answered your email in a reasonable time, sent your commission on time? Which supplier has a great policy for refunds and cancelations in this unprecedented time?”
She says agents must keep in contact with their clients through the likes of social media and newsletters. “Client communication is key in this time, telling them, basically, you’re here for them. Keep sending your email promotions about upcoming tours and travel, keep your clients positive and looking to the next chapter in travel in the coming months.”
GMTours is following “all health measures to keep our clients safe in all destinations,” Mikhail continues. “We keep all groups to a maximum of 25 people to allow for social distancing. Our ground handlers have enhanced the cleaning and sanitizing of all transportation vehicles.”
As well, hotels it uses have been certified by hotel associations and health ministries for having implementing safety measures. GMTours clients can now expect the mandatory wearing of masks for clients, guides, drivers and all employees in contact with guests; access to sanitizing gel/wipes, face masks and gloves on each tour; temperature checks before each tour; and boarding on the tours by rows to allow social distancing;.
“We also increased our commission level to help our agents in this unprecedented time,” Mikhail adds.
Meanwhile, Mikhail believes most agents are looking ahead to 2022 for a full recovery.
“In the meantime keep connecting with your agents and your clients, be honest and understand your clients and your agents’ needs,” she advises. “The bookings will follow through with the right tools and correct information. The industry has survived lots of crises, remember – Sept. 11 and SARS and MERS, and all that has come and gone. Together we are stronger.”