Like Girl Scouts who are always prepared, travel advisors know that a successful vacation often comes down to having a backup plan. So when Lene Minyard of Perfectly Planned Journeys gathered a group of insiders earlier this month to come up with ideas to help travel recover, it’s no surprise they proposed a Plan B—for their own businesses, for their customers, and for the industry as a whole.
The discussion began, of course, with concerns over the present situation. “There’s a lot of new blood coming into the industry; they are coming in by the droves,” said The Travel Institute’s Guida Botelho. “We get 8-10 new people every single day. And we have a responsibility to educate and empower and propel these people forward.”
But for new advisors—and for the thousands of travel advisors already in business—it’s almost impossible to keep up with the changing regulations of every supplier and destination. And of course, there’s the Damocles sword: the better job you do and the more information you share with clients, the greater your liability if you say the wrong thing.
“We need more training on being a business owner, on defining the advisor’s role in the midst of the pandemic,” said TRUE Global Network vice president Margie Jordan. “When you make it your burden [to give clients information], it becomes your liability. Where do we draw the line? What is our duty of care to the client, before we get into a legal situation?”
Best Travel owner Melinda Fortunato noted that “we have Sherpa, we have each destination, we have the State Department—but none of them is up to date on a consistent basis. I send my clients my terms and conditions, and links to the destination—and I tell them multiple times that it is their responsibility” to make sure they understand and follow the protocols.
And yet, the real value of using a travel advisor has always been the vast knowledge they have. “My value is me. That’s how we were marketing ourselves,” Fortunato said.
There are a few good sources of information, the group noted. Travel Weekly has an interactive map; United Airlines tracks information; Jordan mentioned Dr. Yvette McQueen, who has started a Covid travel consulting business. “But clearly, we don’t know,” she said. “We’re not doctors. We’re just as confused as the general public.”
B There or B Square
One good way to approach the problem is by sticking with suppliers who understand the issues and are eager to cooperate with travel advisors on grass-roots promotions, suggested Jordan. “What if we work with tourism boards that are wide open and willing to do some local promotions with travel advisors on social media?” she said. “Mexico is wide open, let’s go there; the UK is wide open. Let’s put those destinations out there and try to restore some confidence to travel.”
While we’re at it, let’s create some Plan Bs with clients. Lets carefully lay out all the details of what will happen if they catch covid on the road, as Jordan did to calm the concerns of a group she recently led to Ghana.
In a Zoom meeting with the group prior to travel, “We asked all the questions: Where can we stay inexpensively? What will the cost be? So before we left, we all knew the Plan B was that we’ll move you to this hotel and have someone in country to help you. We’ll rebook your flight for you. Just bring your laptop so you can still work,” she said.
For information on the current protocols, Jordan turned to “the people who have a financial vested interest in getting me there—the DMCs. They don’t make money if my client doesn’t arrive, so they actually care if my client gets there safely.”
Indeed, travel advisors might consider a Plan B for their own businesses as well, the group said. If your niche is closed for Covid, “you have to sell what you can for now. You have to sell what makes money,” Fortunato said. It’s not forever; for the time being she is picking destinations “that have been successfully opened and stayed open and have the least amount of risk. That makes the constant changes a lot easier to figure out. It doesn’t mean you can only book those places—but now more than ever having that as a niche is important.”
“Listen to your clients,” agreed Botelho. If your specialty is Europe, but customers are fearful of traveling internationally, find a domestic destination that works for them. “You are not giving up who you are. Maintain your niche through your posts and your newsletters. Continue to educate. But book what sells right now and makes some money.”
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.