If ever there was a perfect time for a guided vacation, this is it.
As bored, but wary, travelers consider heading out their front doors, many still are concerned about how to navigate the ever-changing regulations, capacity restrictions, and chance of coming down with Covid far from home. If you can’t take your favorite travel advisor along with you, a guided vacation seems like the next-best thing.
Companies like Adventures by Disney, Collette, Globus, Insight Vacations/Luxury Gold, Tauck and Trafalgar, and the travel advisors who sell them, are reporting growing interest and sold-out tour groups to top US destinations—even in April and May of 2021. Collette’s website shows its Painted Canyons of the West, which includes five national parks, is sold out for all three May departures; National Parks is sold out for May Read the rest of this entry »
I sure am looking forward to the return of cruising. I love the sea, a good meal, and a great mojito—topped off by some interesting entertainment and conversation. But, four weeks after being fully vaccinated and starting to travel again, I’m really just pining for some good old-fashioned customer service.
I’ve been following the typical post-vaccine travel pattern: Two brief land excursions with family, then one domestic airline flight, on Delta, my favorite airline, with the empty middle seats. True, I haven’t yet gone to a luxury hotel or one of the all-inclusives in Mexico and the Caribbean, where I hear staff has been jumping through hoops to make guests feel welcome. But here in the US, I’m feeling concerned that our customers, eager as they are to see a piece of land that’s not in their hometown, will come home disappointed by the experience. Travel is just not fun right now. And I’m really hoping the cruise lines deliver on their promise to turn that around. Read the rest of this entry »
“We opened at 5 am and the bookings were coming in fast and furious,” says Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain, referring to the response to the vaccine-required cruises that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are offering from Bermuda, St. Maarten and the Bahamas in June and July.
In short, Royal Caribbean isn’t waiting for those free test cruises it was promising customers, in order to meet the CDC protocols for reopening (though see below for more on that). This summer, travel advisors and their customers seem happy to get a vaccine and wear a mask—and pay their own way while they do it Read the rest of this entry »
If every cloud has a silver lining, coronavirus has brought plenty of time to rethink the way we do business. As their customers hunkered down and phones fell silent, travel advisors turned to one another for support—and their many conversations have ushered in new alliances that promise increased revenues for all the partners.
In just a few of the stories I’ve come across lately, Jackie Magid and three fellow ICs formed a “collective” where they pool sales under a unique IATA number, while also each keeping their own business. Paul Cathcart and Carol Andrews are splitting villa rentals in Europe Read the rest of this entry »
Sitting over dinner one night in February, Vicki Freed and Brad Tolkin realized both their companies had come up with the same plan. They would help rescue their partners and friends—and the travel agency channel on which Royal Caribbean and World Travel Holdings depend—by offering low- and no-cost loans to tide them over until the expected flood of travelers hits the road. Or the seas.
The Royal Caribbean program is the more audacious, offering three-year interest-free loans to travel agencies that earned a minimum of about $4 million (the exact number differs state by state) from ships in the Royal Caribbean Group with departures between July 1 to December 31, 2019 (the last full six-month period before the pandemic). Agencies can borrow up to 25% of their aggregate commissions in that period, to a maximum of $250,000 Read the rest of this entry »
Take one new tax law that passed on December 27. Add payment delays at the IRS. Top with one global pandemic. “This is one of the nation’s most important tax seasons ever,” says IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
In short, lots of issues lie in wait for taxpayers this year. Travel advisors surely understand that it is important to talk to a professional when making important decisions in a rapidly changing environment. But as you work with your tax advisor, here are some new developments to consider Read the rest of this entry »
“For the first two weeks of January, I felt like a genius,” says Lynn Clark.
Heading into Wave season in the middle of a Milwaukee winter, she had upped the hours of the four retail agents at her Travel Leaders franchise from one day a week to three, on condition they call two clients a day—not to sell, just to “remind our best customers we’re still here, and kind of get the pulse of the market.” The clients loved it, and it was generating sales.
Then came January 12. The CDC announced that all inbound travelers must test for Covid before departure, and quarantine in place if they test positive. “We thought ‘OMG,’ it’s all going to go again!”
Clark wasted no time. She immediately went into ClientBase and pulled up the 114 bookings for customers headed for Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica for January through April. Then she started emailing. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s a new year; it’s a new world; it’s a new job altogether for travel advisors in January 2021. And as always, while the world waits for travel to come back, travel advisors are adapting to the new reality.
While a lucky few are proceeding with business as usual, most are on the hunt for alternatives to the tried and true. They are working with new partners. Teaching and mentoring. Taking on new positions. Finding new niches and new destinations to sell. And, even just plain retiring to the ranch.
What can you do, after all, when you have a $16 million business and 33 employees—and then your niche disappears overnight? That’s what happened to Suri Pillai, a Canadian travel advisor who specialized in coach tours and river cruises in Europe. Until Covid hit.
His answer? Go where the business is. Read the rest of this entry »
To check out Part 1 of this two-part article, please click here.
Tripadvisor is offering its 463 million monthly customers easy access to a professional travel advisor—and you have to give them credit for going ahead with the rollout of the Reco program this month, in the midst of a global pandemic. The travel advisors who have signed up are being patient, though. After all, the program costs them nothing but time (which many have plenty of)—and holds the promise that the world’s largest online booking site will be sending them a stream of new fee-paying customers when travel comes back.
“This is our chance to have a crack at the luxury market that is not using travel advisors, our chance to convert DIYers Read the rest of this entry »
In an unusual year for travel, a partnership between an OTA and established travel advisors is arguably the most unusual alliance of all.
And yet, say the advisors who signed up, the global pandemic has them thinking it’s a good time to rethink they way they do business. Tripadvisor’s Reco program promises to put them in front of 463 million potential travel buyers a month, to show these do-it-yourself bookers just how important a real-life travel advisor can be—and to set $199 in the public’s mind as a base fee for working with a professional travel advisor.
Charged 18 months ago with developing new products for the world’s largest booking site, Tripadvisor’s New Ventures Directors Sean Graber and Erik Ornitz “were not big users of travel advisors,” Ornitz acknowledged when we chatted, and were only vaguely aware of the role of consortia and host agencies Read the rest of this entry »
Question of the day: Will mandatory covid vaccines cure the fear of traveling and get customers back on the road—or will customers feel bullied and refuse to travel at all?
As in all things 2020, the answer is a clear split decision. Travel advisors have strong—and differing—opinions. And meanwhile, big industry players are moving forward with implementation plans.
Apps designed to make traveler information (including covid test results and vaccines) accessible via QR code include The CommonPass app, in testing by JetBlue and Aruba; IATA’s Travel Pass, in testing with British Airways parent IAG SA; and the travel security firm International SOS’s AOKpass, being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan. Dangui Oduber, Aruba’s minister for health, tourism and sport, said the island already is testing a screening program that will include vaccinations by the end of 2021. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said proof of vaccination will be a condition for travelers entering or leaving Australia on the carrier’s planes. Read the rest of this entry »
The phones already were ringing, travel advisors say, when the promise of a vaccine set off a new kind of WAVE season in December. And suddenly, 2022 is looking to be the year we all have been hoping for—where unspent travel budgets, great promotions from suppliers, and visions of Covid-free travel finally meet.
“Of course everyone has been hearing about the vaccine for months, but now there is a tangible date—and that has made people comfortable enough to make concrete plans to travel again,” says Laurel Brunvoll, owner of Unforgettable Trips in Gaithersburg, MD, who sold eight guests on a Silversea Baltic cruise within 45 minutes of emailing them last week. “A lot more people are ready to plan new trips. They feel it actually could happen.” Read the rest of this entry »
In a different world in 2019, most presentations on “How to Grow Your Travel Business” suggested groups as a great way to attract new customers and maximize your revenues. In 2020, that advice is just another victim of Covid-19, as travel advisors find that keeping groups on track and safe can be harder than they expected. Here’s advice from those who have been there—including some who had Covid-19 join their party.
As a new spike of the virus crosses the country this week, Cruise Planners agency owner Jeff Page finds himself all dressed up with nowhere to go. “Most people are hunkered down—but my luxury clients want to go,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »
Travel agency owner Michael Graham is an overnight expert on the morality of selling travel during a pandemic. He took four customers with him aboard the SeaDream’s first Caribbean voyage last week – and left two behind in Barbados, in quarantine, when they caught Covid-19 onboard. (More on that below.)
Personally, I’ve learned a thing or two myself these past weeks about the moral dilemma of whether to sell travel right now. A B2B writer all my life, I was excited when the consumer press gave a shout-out to my column and my Facebook page. But soon I – and TRO along with me – found ourselves in the middle of a shoot-out between USAToday’s Chris Elliott and ASTA.
The controversy brought to mind three questions I used to tell the reporters to consider before pitching a story: Is it true? Is it news? Is it fair? No one wants to hear what you think, I’d tell them. It’s about getting your facts straight, telling both sides, and letting your readers decide for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s no better cheerleader for the cruise industry than Royal Caribbean VP, Vicki Freed. So it’s no surprise that when the CDC opened the door to resuming cruising from US ports, Freed took advantage of her Wednesday Coffee Talk last week to say the words so many have been longing to hear:
“As it tests the CDC guidelines, RCCL will offer free cruises to employees and invited guests. If you’re interested, send me an email.”
If there’s any doubt about the pent-up demand for cruising, the response should put an end to it. By the end of the afternoon she received 1,000 emails. Within the week she had several thousand.
Travel advisors raised their hands on my Facebook pages and across social media – and many said they were fielding calls from customers as well. Read the rest of this entry »
Jennifer Walker has been hit by Covid-19 twice. No, she hasn’t actually had it herself. But two of her clients have — and she feels their pain.
Walker had two trips in the works for “senior ladies” when the coronavirus hit. One was supposed to sail Viking Ocean to Bali and Beyond; she died right before final payment. The other had a multigenerational trip to Hawaii booked for 2020, which Walker was in the process of moving to 2021, and was talking about a European river cruise for her anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »
2020 may be the worst of times for the travel industry, but some advisors still are having a pretty good year—thanks to new niches, new marketing and even new offices.
In Pennsylvania, for example, president Jennifer Doncsecz and the team at VIP Vacations are celebrating a record year in destination weddings that had the phone ringing through the pandemic.
They moved all but five of the 100 groups that were on the books for 2020 to 2021—and then booked even more every single month during the Covid crisis. By July and August, they were booking 25% more groups than in the same two months of 2019. Read the rest of this entry »
Travel advisors were taken aback last week by an article in USAToday that lumped them together with tour operators and online travel agencies (OTAs) as it accused the industry of being “a Ponzi scheme” that defrauded consumers.
“Travel Deposits Become Shell Game in Pandemic,” the headline declared.
“The coronavirus has exposed a secret underbelly of the travel business,” wrote authors Nick Penzenstadler and Josh Salman. “Many travel agencies operate Ponzi-type schemes in which one traveler’s deposit pays for a previous traveler’s tickets and accommodations, and so on. Everything ran smoothly as long as bookings continued to roll in.”
The full-page article describes the plight of a couple forced to cough up thousands of dollars at checkout at the Grand Palladium in Punta Cana after Book-It went out of business. Read the rest of this entry »
Start with travel advisors who are desperate for cash flow. Add suppliers who need a healthy distribution channel to calm wary travelers. Muddy the waters with commission recalls of $50,000 or more. And suddenly, the industry is abuzz with talk about paying travel agencies their commissions earlier in the cycle.
This being 2020, it’s no surprise that just as some applaud the idea, others call it a huge mistake. But in the space between, suppliers and advisors are Zooming about ways to make their payment policies fit the new reality.
“We’ve never had a program that pays advance commissions to travel advisors until now,” says Stephanie Mirando at Collette, which last week guaranteed $100 to $200 in commission on every reservation booked in 2021 for travel starting after May 1. Like a fee for service, advisors can keep it even if the trip is canceled. Read the rest of this entry »
As if Covid cases, consistently changing rules of entry, and nervous customers weren’t enough to deal with… last week, travel advisors were hit by another insidious disease: scammers at the resorts.
“I got lucky; I had a guardian angel looking out for me,” says travel advisor Loulu Lima, who last week discovered, just in time, that her booking of 22 adults and kids, for a total of 27 room nights, at the Hard Rock Punta Cana for a man named Darling Koch (you can’t make this stuff up) was just one big con.
Cathy Sanchez was not so lucky. Her scammer, who called himself Robert Nunez, booked five rooms at Hard Rock earlier this month — and even sent her a video of himself enjoying his vacation. Then he disputed the credit card charge, claiming it was unauthorized.
While they are seasoned travel advisors with a careful process for detecting scammers, both Lima and Sanchez were fooled Read the rest of this entry »
Ditch the fam trips? Suggest they quarantine before they go? Travel advisors must find their individual moral truths about travel. As many head to Mexico this month, they are asking the tough questions — and preparing for some shaming they likely will face.
For a Texan, some might say, Chad Shields has been following a moderate path these past few months. The owner of Engage Vacations has been adhering to the required protocols regarding social distancing and wearing masks on his three trips to Mexico — and encouraging his clients to do the same. Read the rest of this entry »