Times are changing, tour operators need advisors more than ever

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For many suppliers, travel advisors are their main source of business and there is no evidence that this is changing.

In fact, if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the travel industry anything, it’s that advisors are needed, and not just by travelers who relied on advisors to get them home when they were stuck abroad. During the shutdown, providers relied on advisers to act as go-betweens, to communicate policies, to cancel and rebook (often multiple times) and to stay in touch with customers so they were better able to respond when demand rebounded.

“You are so important to our business,” Marigold Frontuna, General Manager, Sales, Western Canada for Air Canada Vacations, told attendees of Travel Market Report’s Travel Market Place West conference earlier this month. here in Vancouver. “Other people say ‘we want to go straight’, but that’s definitely not the model we’re looking for.”

Frontuna said travel advisors drive 80% of Air Canada Vacations’ business, adding that ACV relies on advisors to understand Air Canada Vacations’ product and value proposition and communicate it to their customers.

“You are a good source of information…especially now that the world has changed. Traveling is different and we count on you to be an extension of our voice. You are very important.

Carla Brake, business director, development of the Globus family of brands, agrees. Across all of the company’s brands, Ms. Brake said advisors account for 90% of their business, which she attributed to the ability of the agency community to serve as a guide to ensure travelers find the good product in a sea of ​​options.

“There are a lot of questions that come up and that’s where your value comes in. They need you to guide them and I don’t think that’s going to change. The pandemic has brought the value of the travel agent even more to life,” she said.

Travel advisors drive G Adventures’ business a little less – around 70% – but Erin Rogers, National Sales Manager for Canada at G Adventures, agreed with Frontuna and Brake wholeheartedly. .

“We need you to be that first marketing tool for us,” she said. “We really need you to introduce your customers to our style of travel for the first time…That’s why we pay commissions and that’s also why we love you so much.”

Change times
Panel moderator Brian Israel, Associate Editor of TMR, pointed out that not only do tour operators need the agency community more than ever, but that the two are more alike than one might first assume. Both had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting and making changes they might never have made otherwise.

“As much as COVID has brought a lot of daunting things to our industry, we’ve also had to look for opportunities,” Air Canada Vacations’ Frontuna told the audience.

For ACV, it was about learning to react and make decisions more quickly. “That was one of the things that we really had to adapt to, we have to react to…you’ll never know all the facts in any scenario, so make a decision. Once you’ve measured the results, you can always correct course along the way.”

At G Adventures and the Globus family of brands, learning to be more flexible was their biggest asset.

“Within our company, we needed to become more flexible,” Rogers said, referring to both the company’s terms and conditions, as well as how they organize their tours.

G Adventures, for example, has a rebooking policy in place that allows customers to cancel and rebook up to 14 days before travel. “Which, logistically, is crazy to think about, because the odds of us selling this place in 14 days are pretty slim,” she said.

But it was what consumers needed.

When it comes to their tours, G Adventures has had to learn to be nimble to adapt to changing regulations, like being able to ensure that travelers, while on their tour, can get the tests they need. to return to their country of origin.

At Globus, flexibility was also important. The same goes for open conversations, Brake said.

“None of us have ever experienced anything like this before. So working with partners, with advisors, it was open conversations. How can we help you? How can we help each other? What was needed?”

Technological supports
Many of the answers to these questions have prompted vendors to invest in technology like never before. For example, Brake said, no one wanted paper brochures anymore because no one wanted to touch anything. Globus turned to digital channels, like email and its agency portal, to provide route information.

The company also had to find ways to communicate policy changes and route suspensions to advisors more quickly. Again, technology played a role.

“On our side, it allowed us to be more accessible… it [the agency portal] became such a wealth of information for everyone, we were able to put it all in as we went,” Brake said.

Frontuna accepted. “It was definitely a bridge to connecting with people without in-person contact,” she said. “It allows us to increase our engagement with customers…it allows us to communicate much faster with you.”

G Adventures turned to technology to bring “tours to the consumer,” Rogers said. The company offered “virtual tours” with its CEO and tour guides explaining what it’s like to take a G Adventures tour to destinations around the world.

Panelists also agreed that technology has empowered travel advisors, pointing out that there are many things they can do on agency portals without the help of a center representative. calls.

“I’m going to go,” Frontuna joked with the audience. “It’s allowed us to improve our technology so you can better serve you, because we know wait times are a pain. There are many things you can do yourself to serve yourself, freeing up phone lines for agents with legitimate needs to reach us.

Rogers echoed Frontuna, pointing out that the G Adventures agent portal has a live chat feature that can get questions answered or help with rebooking faster than if they tried to contact the agent center. calls.

A behind-the-scenes look at supplier cancellations
One of the most difficult aspects of the past two years has been the constant cancellation of tours by suppliers. These required rebooking, often multiple times, all without any compensation to the travel advisors.

Moderator Israel asked the panelists to talk about what happens behind the scenes when a cancellation decision is made.

“Our number one motto is happy customers, so we want to make sure the experience we provide is what the customer expects,” Globus’ Brake said. “When we suspend trips, it’s not because we want to. It’s not that we want to take anything away from you or your client. It’s just not going to be a good vacation.

Rogers added that arranging a tour in a destination is logistically complicated. When the logistics don’t line up, there’s no point in trying to arrange a tour – it’s assuming the local government would even allow them in.

“When it comes to determining which destinations we operate, there are so many factors we need to consider, to the point that our operations and product team came up with a 65-page document which is our list of internal check that we need to run through to make sure everything is online before reopening this destination.

Things that G Adventures looks at are immunization rates, vaccinated guides, and is there easy access to medical supplies and facilities if a guest contracts COVID-19. Another question they ask, are the small local communities in which G Adventures operates even open to international travellers?

“Not everyone wanted travelers to come back as quickly as we wanted to come back there,” she added.

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