'Thank God We Used a Travel Agent'

When the COVID-19 outbreak subsides and pent-up demand is unleashed, professional travel advisors will likely find themselves with a surge of new customers.

Many travelers frustrated by unresponsive online travel agencies and deciphering cancellation and rebooking policies will search for a human expert the next time they plan a vacation.

“It’s expected that there will be a surge of new clients after Covid-19 subsides as travelers will want the support and guidance of an experienced travel advisor to navigate the travel landscape,” said Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative. “With new travel procedures likely on the horizon, and many travelers wishing to reschedule their cancelled vacation, the value of a travel advisor is clear – as an advocate, a curator and personal vacation advisor. In today’s world of automation, there is huge value simply in a trusted source answering the phone and being a friendly voice.”

Drew Daly, senior vice president/general manager of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., said travelers have recognized the value of personal service during this outbreak.

“People who were left dealing with long hold times or ‘less than’ service are going to think twice next time they book their vacation,” he said. “We have heard countless stories from our agents as to how they saved the day just by being a sounding board to hold their customers’ hands during the process as things were unfolding. Whether it was helping them return home, getting them rebooked, obtaining a refund or just understanding the policies, the travel expert who focused on service will be remembered. When these consumers share their stories with friends and loved ones, it will only translate to a more positive return for their agent. Right now, service is everything.”

Kendall Schroeder, a 26-year-old teacher in suburban Chicago, worked with a travel agent for the first time ever to plan her honeymoon – a 10-day trip to Budapest, Vienna and Prague in late June and early July. While dealing with the stress of planning the wedding, she decided to use a travel advisor for the honeymoon and went with a friend’s recommendation of Mary Ann Mayers with SW Travel Inc. in Cary, Ill.

“Thank God we used a travel agent during this time,” Schroeder said. “When our honeymoon date started coming into question, I thought about how big of a pain it would have been to reschedule every flight, contact every hotel, cancel every train ticket, and postpone every activity we have planned for our trip.”

The honeymoon is uncertain but still on for the time being. “I’m not sure how everything will work out yet with refunds and rescheduling, but I do know that it is a lot easier talking to one person versus potentially 8 or 10 different companies through all of our bookings,” Schroeder said.

While she’d previously booked trips through Travelocity or Expedia, she’s learned the value of a professional travel advisor, who “also found tours for us to fit into our trip that we probably would not have booked just because it’s hard to judge looking online what is legitimate or worth the money.”

Professional travel advisors help navigate the tsunami of online information. “It is tough to get advice and white-gloved personal customer support from an online travel agency these days (or any days),” Garcia said. “Unlike online travel agencies, travel advisors have the advantage of establishing and maintaining personal relationships with each of their clients. Travel advisors know the ins and outs of a client’s needs and the friends and relatives with whom they travel.”

In fact, many clients are showing appreciation for their travel advisors. “Our agents have been receiving gifts from their customers (more than ever) just as a thank-you for helping to reduce their customer’s headaches,” Daly said.

And once the travel restrictions and coronavirus fears subside, professional travel advisors will be the ones to help new clients navigate the new normal.

“The home-based agent is in prime position for success in the travel industry as business returns,” Daly said. “They are in their communities overcoming objections and will be the boots on the ground to help promote the safety and security of cruising and travel in the future. People are also of the mindset now to support small business more.”

Concludes Garcia: “Now that consumers have experienced waiting on hold for seven hours or felt the confusion of constantly changing travel policies, I think they understand the true value of a travel advisor. Plus, research shows that it takes four weeks to plan a one-week vacation. Travel advisors do the leg work, present the clients with a shortlist of options in their budget, and often introduce clients to travel ideas they may not have thought of, or that didn’t come up in an internet search. We are already seeing increased call volume for 2021 travel. The appreciation for high-quality customer service has never been greater.”

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