As with all monumental global events, the coronavirus pandemic will create permanent change throughout the world, including the travel advisor community.
“Inevitably, permanent change will occur once the pandemic is over, ranging from long-term scenario planning – regardless of agency size – as agencies take into account what is needed for their business to survive, revive and thrive should a pandemic or similar situation occur again, to renewed focus on the effectiveness and completeness of both agency and travel supplier terms and conditions,” said Mark Meader, senior vice president of industry affairs and education for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
Meader and other leaders in the travel advisor community foresee a number of permanent changes.
Debbie Fiorino, chief operating officer of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., predicts that professional relationships will be more important than ever – including those between consumers and advisors and the agents and their host, franchise or consortium.
“Just like consumers got to see the value of the travel advisor during the pandemic, I think travel advisors are seeing the value of belonging to a host, franchise or consortia. During the crisis, consumers needed agents and agents needed their hosts,” she said.
Those larger umbrella organizations offered assistance to their advisors, from marketing help to advice on weathering revenue shortfalls. Cruise Planners, for example, implemented a future cruise credit re-engagement strategy and launched an all-inclusive resort system to facilitate land-based travel sales for consumers leery of cruises.
Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, sees other permanent changes, including increasing use of online face-to-face communication tools now that we’ve become more comfortable using Zoom, Skype webinars and other systems.
“Travel advisors are expected to approach sales in new ways,” Fee said. “It is a virtual world right now with Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms. We expect that agents will continue to leverage face-to-face video technology to create and grow relationships with their clients.”
They’ll also need to “adopt new tactics to leverage technology to its full potential,” she said, citing Cruise Planners’ Where2Next Virtual Event Travel Series that lets advisors invite clients to explore new destination opportunities together virtually.
There also will be a new emphasis on health and safety protocols, much as we saw new security measures implemented after 9/11.
“We have already seen the cruise lines reveal new muster drill policies and boarding policies that we feel will be permanent changes,” Fee said. “Thanks to technology, touch-free ordering, boarding, room key access, and more will be the norm.”
Flexible cancellation policies, which ease people’s minds about booking vacations now, will remain in place for the time being, Fee said.
“We do expect to see flexible cancellation policies continue for at least through late 2021; however, we don’t feel this will be a permanent change in the industry,” she said.
One more change Fee predicts is people taking bigger or more vacations starting in 2021 since so many had to skip travel this year. “Our guess is that some might take more vacations than in a usual year,” Fee said, “or a bigger vacation, going to Europe, instead of the Caribbean.”
No more taking vacations for granted!
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