With Canadians fired up to travel and a ‘Roaring ‘20’s’ style rebirth for travel advisors predicted in the coming months, Canada’s retailers are looking forward to a long-awaited booking boom. The big question is: is their business ready to handle it?
Open Jaw put the question to travel advisors.
Marion Rose, the owner of Elgin Travel and Cruises Travel Plus in Ontario, says she has been planning for the future of travel for several months now.
“We’re ready to come back and will come back stronger than we were,” she told Open Jaw on a call last week.
“Our office is set up with all the safety measures like touchless screens, plexiglass barriers at desks and sanitation equipment. We’ve kept in touch with clients by newsletters and webinars.”
Rose is an advising member of TDC’s Franchise Advisory Council & Members Advisory Council (FAC & MAC), made up of 12 owners of franchised and affiliated agencies from across Canada. The councils were established to propel agencies under the TDC umbrella forward when travel resumes. The committee has been meeting regularly over the past several months to plan a recovery post-COVID-19.
“We let our clients know that we are up to date with travel requirements and that we do have the answers, because we know they’re going to need to feel comfortable knowing somebody is there to hold their hand and make decisions when the time is right,” Rose says, adding that her agency is focusing on marketing efforts, hiring new staff, and having all advisors fully trained on new travel policies.
“We know the value of the travel professional has been proven and our clients will value working with an advisor who can give them answers and assistance on protocols. We feel they’re ready to pay for our expertise.”
YYZ Travel Group’s Richard D’Souza told Open Jaw while he is also ready to handle the travel business after a long break, many hurdles remain with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Travel requirements vary from one country to another and are changing on almost a daily basis. I am sure there are lots of suppliers that have either closed or merged and the question is: are they ready to welcome guests?” he says.
He also says client needs will shift in a post-pandemic travel environment, namely around group size. “Clients will be afraid to travel in large groups initially, due to physical distancing measures,” he said.
UpUpAndAway Travel, based in Ontario, is also ready for the boom.
“My business has already started to come back as I made the choice to ‘wake it up’ about seven weeks ago,” owner Mike Sanderson tells Open Jaw. Since revving up his business, Sanderson has booked 20 trips in MAR alone, and says the inquiries and bookings have continued into APR.
“Our clients look to us for expertise. I feel there are a lot of clients waiting for their travel agent to give them the ‘clearance’ to get excited about travel again and get something in the calendar to look forward to. With some amazing suppliers offering flexible cancellation policies, now is the time to get your foot in the door with a small deposit so that you are not disappointed when the restrictions lift and everyone starts to want to book something.”
Sanderson says he used the pandemic downtime to reorganize his trade team in order to capitalize on niche business like Disney vacations, Europe, cruising and groups.
“I am preparing to capture those people who booked online themselves and struggled when their trip was cancelled due to the pandemic,” he said.
“There’s also the mental health aspect of travel here that is not being talked about enough. I do whatever I can to talk about that in my posts and share with people how amazing it is going to feel having something booked and a date to look forward to.”
Paull Travel’s owner, Lesley Paull, says her Edmonton-based business is ready to handle the boom, with all 12 of her agents currently working three days a week and mobilized to work full time when bookings pick up.
In fact, what has her worried is whether she’ll have enough staff to handle the demand!
“I think leisure is going to be where the boom is first, or at least the area that will need all hands on deck as EVERYONE wants to get out of here,” Paull told Open Jaw in an email. “It’s what to do if we can’t handle the business with all the original staff full time… that’s the question for me that I don’t have an answer for quite yet.”
Beth Lariviere, owner of EA Travel & Tours answered whether her Ontario business is ready to handle a boom in travel with a resounding “YES.”
“We are preparing by keeping up-to-date on what is happening in the travel world,” particularly around travel insurance, vaccine passports, robotic cleaning of hotel rooms, touchless check-in at airports, certified safe and clean resort protocols, clean air filtration on planes and cruise ship innovation, she told Open Jaw.
“We are educating ourselves to best advise our clients when it is safe to travel again! We are looking for special places, eagerly awaiting the return to travel!” Lariviere said.