The news coverage around the country seems to be spotty at best when it comes to reporting the flooding and devastation currently going on in Louisiana. If you’re area news stations aren’t reporting about it, parts of Louisiana are suffering severe flooding. One travel agent reported over 30 inches of rain in her area in less than 48 hours. For some, it’s bringing back memories of the devastation of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, but this flooding is much worse. Some are reporting that this may be the worst single natural disaster to have ever hit the United States.
Why do I say that we need to learn from Louisiana? Travel agents in the area have been devastated. In varying degrees they’ve lost their homes and in some cases they have completely lost their businesses as well (storefront as well as home-based). They are under unimaginable stress. And some are asking how they can continue to service their clients under these circumstances.
I know that when Nashville faced major flooding six years ago, similar questions came up. Some travel agents set up shop in Starbucks and Panera Bread where they could work with electricity and free WiFi, and they worked there for several days or weeks. However, some of them had to drive quite a distance to find places that weren’t also flooded, where the electricity was still on. Add that to the stress of worrying about your family, where you’re going to live because your house was flooded, dealing with insurance claims and adjusters, and work isn’t necessarily your top priority.
But it needs to be said again.
Even if you strongly believe in being available to your clients 24/7/365 and never taking a single day off or a vacation, you need an emergency plan–just like we explain to our clients about the unforeseen circumstances that can pop up forcing them to cancel or interrupt a vacation, hence the need for travel insurance. Travel agents also need to plan for those unforeseen circumstances. We owe it to ourselves and our clients.
If you are in a car accident, struck by lightning, or lose everything in a flood, who is going to take care of your clients and your business while you can’t? Yes, clients at times can be understanding. If you are laid up in ICU, they may understand that you can’t process their payment for them right away. But not everyone is going to be so understanding. Final payment dates won’t wait for anyone, not even a travel agent in a coma. Travel documents won’t deliver themselves. This can really have a negative impact on your business, your reputation, and your clients’ vacations. So what do you do?
If you have a host agency
If you are with a host, find out what policies they have in place that address independent contractors not being able to service their clients for one reason or another. Do they offer to back you up? If so, does it impact your commission split because they’re having to work on your bookings? When I was an IC with Avoya Travel, they had a system in place where we could partner up with other ICs of our choosing, and we could then back each other up as needed. We also could control how much information our back ups could access about our clients.
If your host agency doesn’t have a system like Avoya, suggest to them that they put one in place. If they aren’t willing, reach out to other ICs and see if you can set up your own buddy system for emergency purposes.
If you’re host-less
Many travel agents work truly independently without a host agency. I fall into this category, and when I think about it, it scares me. There are four out of state travel agents that I trust implicitly. One of them has my online CRM log in information, and she can share it with the others if necessary. In planned scenarios, like my upcoming trip to Cabo, I can tap one of them to be on standby if any clients need immediate assistance (i.e. clients in travel at the time). In emergency scenarios, my husband and daughter know who to reach out to for help. In the absolute worst case scenario, if my husband, daughter and I are all “compromised” at the same time, I’m sure it’ll eventually hit Facebook, and my back-ups can spring into action. As long as they can access my online CRM, they can figure out what is going on.
What does an emergency plan look like?
Every agent can do as much, or little, as they feel necessary. But it’s imperative to have some kind of plan in place, and let someone else know what the plan is (or where they can find it).
At the very least have one travel agent as your back-up, preferably outside of your area. Travel agents in Louisiana are in no position to support each other, as they are all pretty much devastated by this flooding. If you are in California, find a back-up that isn’t in earthquake central. If you are along the Gulf Coast, find an agent that’s not in a hurricane zone.
Make sure your back up knows how to find our client information online. If you do not have an online CRM, seriously consider getting one. Otherwise, at least have some kind of document in a shareable folder “in the cloud” that they can access. It should contain all information about current bookings. For example, have a spreadsheet that includes the lead passenger name, their email address and phone number, the supplier currently booked, confirmation numbers, travel dates, total amount, amount paid to date, and when final payment is due. With this bare minimum information, they can quickly see who is currently traveling, who has final payments coming up soon, and a way to contact them.
Please, learn from what is going on in Louisiana, stop shoving your head in the sand, and get an emergency plan in place right now!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.