Following months of closures due to the effects of COVID-19, SellOffVacations reopened its 30 retail stores across Canada yesterday, 14SEP.
“We’re excited to be reopening our doors in communities all across Canada,” said Stuart Morris, General Manager, Retail, for SellOffVacations.
“For over three decades, we have been providing expert travel advice in local communities from coast to coast. Over the last month, our agents have called and spoken to thousands of clients and we know that people are eager to talk about travel. With our stores reopening, our travel experts are looking forward to continuing these conversations, helping customers plan future getaways and answering any questions they may have in these uncertain times.”
Health and safety protocols have been put in place at each store to ensure the safety of customers and employees, according to the agency’s news release.
New measures include enhanced sanitation protocols, frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces, plastic barriers between desks, use of masks according to local bylaws and regulations, physical distancing reminders throughout the store and a maximum store capacity of six customers to help promote physical distancing. Contactless methods of communication are also available so customers have the option to meet with their travel agent over the phone, email or video conferencing.
“It’s been a hard six months but we’re delighted to be able to edge a little closer to normal, and delighted with the number of customers returning and new, who want to discuss travel with our teams,” President of Tour Operations for Sunwing, Andrew Dawson, tells Open Jaw.
“My thanks to Stuart, Val [Miko] and their dedicated team for developing and executing plans to ensure the stores can re-open safely respecting all local protocols.”
James Foster, branch manager of the 3329 Yonge Street location in North York, tells OJ he is “excited” to be back in the office and dealing with clients face-to-face.
“It’s nice to be back in the community where it feels like we’ve been forever. Seeing customers come back and seeing them ask travel-related questions is one of the reasons I love this job. Face-to-face interactions have always been a plus for me,” says Foster, who had been working from home since offices closed in March.
“We get consumers asking us a ton of questions. Travel hasn’t left consumers’ minds, just put it on the backburner as they see what’s happening in world. We get a lot of questions about entry requirements and if destinations are open.
“I definitely think travel will rebound. The feedback I’m hearing [from clients] is that they just want to get away. They’re tired of staying at home, they’re tired of working from home. Some guests are asking about working in-destination for their job, because what’s better than working from a beach?”
The pandemic has also evolved the travel agent’s role, he says.
“It has made our job not like what it used to be. Before, it was about finding a great hotel, a great destination. Now, it’s more of a service. We need to make sure we are up to date with COVID policies pre- and post-travel. Requirements are changing constantly,” Foster says.
It’s a similar situation with Karen Banjar, store manager at a SellOffVacations outlet in Sudbury. Banjar had been barely open for a few hours before she booked a trip to Jamaica for a client, CTVNews reports.
“It’s definitely been a lot slower, but people are starting to inquire again and people are starting to call again to see about the new protocols and new health and safety measures that are out,” said Banjar in the CTV article.
She said many are coming to her with questions on what resorts are doing differently now to keep people safe. They’re also looking into current travel restrictions, and some are even inquiring about COVID insurance.
“People have started to look into ideas and see what things are out there for next year because, of course, a lot of things have been cut back,” she said.
Morris: “We’ve Been Encouraged By All The Positive Interest”
Open Jaw reached out to SellOff’s Retail GM, Stuart Morris, to hear why now is the best time to reopen its retail locations.
Open Jaw (OJ): What are you seeing in the marketplace that indicates now is the right time to reopen?
Stuart Morris (SM): Over the last month, our Travel Agents have called and spoken to thousands of customers. Agents tend to be apprehensive about ‘cold calling’ past customers, but they’ve been surprised by how many people are happy to hear from us and want to talk travel. We’ve been encouraged by all the positive interest. We also hope that by reopening the stores, we send a signal to Canadians that a vacation planning should be on your ‘to do’ list.
OJ: Can we read a level of confidence in travel restarting soon?
SM: The benefit of talking to so many past customers is you can see trends. There are many people who love the idea of a sunny vacation, but for one reason or another they’re not ready to actually start planning. Fortunately, there is another sizable segment who are wanting to get back towards normal. It might be that they don’t have dependents. They might have more money in their chequing account after months of not spending. Perhaps they simply need the emotional benefits of a proper vacation. Whatever the motivation, we want to help them progress their planning, regardless of how small those first steps are.
We believe that the sooner Canadians start sharing news of a wonderful safe vacation taken, the sooner the recovery gains pace. The reassuring voice of travellers is super important.
OJ: Are advisors excited to reopen their doors?
SM: Successful travel agents do well because they love talking travel. It’s been a slow summer. Our agents like it when it’s busy, so it’s no surprise our agents are excited to be taking this next step – they love helping people plan trips. While SellOffVacations worked hard all summer, we really need to connect with a lot more people. Opening the doors will bring in more people. It all starts with connections.
Anna Kroupina Journalist
Anna is OJ’s newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she’s new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.