Insights from travel industry insiders on managing through the COVID-19 crisis

What to do when travel stops

It’s no secret that we’re living in an unprecedented time in our lives. With the world virtually at a standstill, many industries are being negatively impacted by the coronavirus. One sector being hit hard is the travel industry. With many borders closed, stay-at-home orders in effect in several places, and practically all travel stopping, people are canceling flights, cruises, hotel reservations and more. What’s a travel industry worker to do?

To find out, I went straight to the source. I got feedback from dozens of people working in the travel industry. In this post, I’ll share the gist of everything they told me.

Assess your current situation first

How many of your clients are scheduled to go on trips? Make a list, and anticipate ahead of time which clients will be most likely to call or email for a cancellation.

Check in with your vendors and see if they have any helpful information that you can share.

For example, some cruise lines are offering credits if people postpone rather than cancel their trips. Many are allowing 100% refunds, but it could take up to 90 days in some cases for your clients to receive their money.

Some cruise lines, however, are not refunding deposits that were listed as “non-refundable deposits.” Refer to the individual cruise lines’ terms of services / conditions pages for applicable refund policies (e.g. Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian). You need to know this before promising someone a full refund.

The more information you have at the ready, the better.

 

That is why it’s so critical you get all the facts prior to responding.

Tip: If needed, create an auto-responder email that states you are experiencing heavy inquiry volume, and you will get back to them as soon as possible. In your auto-responder, ask your clients to include all relevant information related to their travel inquiry so you can research the best course of action for them.

If you are taking calls from clients, and you don’t have all the facts just yet, be honest and let your clients know that you are working on getting the information as quickly as you can.

Recognize upfront that some of your clients are probably scared right now. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and add them to your queue of people you need to get back to. Then, take it one problem at a time.

Pay attention to updates as they come

This situation is fluid, and there is currently no real date when the travel industry is supposed to be back in full swing. Clients who have booked trips later in the year still may want to cancel. In fact, depending on how long things continue the way they are, they may have no choice but to cancel.

Again, just keep calm and gather as much information as you can so you can address inquiries as they come.

Travel Industry Insiders Jenn Earley Pink Jacket
Photo: Jenn Earley of Cultured Vacations

Jenn Earley of Cultured Vacations said, “I’m of the belief that travelers should postpone trips versus cancel. There are several partners who are working with us to make arrangements for clients who wish to travel at a later date — even those that don’t have travel insurance.

I also believe that now is a time to book future travel. Many partners that I work with are allowing this with more flexibility than we’ve seen in times past.

Additionally, I recommend that travelers purchase travel insurance to protect their investments to mitigate any potential losses. Some of my partners are even offering a 125% travel credit as insurance should they need to rebook a future travel experience that they are committing to today.”

”The sooner that people are able to travel again, the better it will be for both our local and global economy.” ~ Siera Duiser, Destinations To Explore

Siera Duiser, of Destinations To Explore, said, “I am still continuing to book travel for guests planning to travel later in the year or even into next year. If guests are able to reschedule rather than cancel altogether, this will be very helpful for travel agents and the travel industry as a whole.

The sooner that people are able to travel again, the better it will be for both our local and global economy.

There are some great prices on flights for later this year, even into January, so it will be a great time to get some amazing travel deals as things start to re-open and we are able to travel again. I am expecting some great cruise deals, especially.

If the community is willing to reschedule rather than cancel and/or take advantage of the travel deals in the coming months, it will be a great help and support for their travel agent.”

Tip: Even for clients that don’t have trips coming up soon, you may want to get in touch with them to ease their concerns. Let them know you are tracking everything and will keep them posted on whether or not they need to postpone their upcoming travel.

You may have to do a little digging

Unfortunately, some travel vendors are not being as helpful as the travel industry insiders I spoke with would like right now. Unanswered phone calls and emails are making it frustrating to get pertinent information. Most insiders I spoke to are finding that the best sources of information are on their vendors’ websites, and via private login portals for travel agents.

Tip: Searching “COVID-19 and your vendor name” or “coronavirus and your vendor name” may help you get information faster.

Many travel vendors are also experiencing heavy call and email volume. So much so that some are even asking people not to call, but rather to fill out contact forms that will be addressed in the order they are received.

If your client has a trip booked within the next 48 to 72 hours, you may be pushed to the top of the list, but it’s best for your clients to get the ball rolling much sooner if they plan to cancel.

What to do for income in the interim

Like many other individuals and businesses, many travel industry owners and workers are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of COVID-19. Here are some ways that might help bring income in during this difficult time:

Get creative with new bookings policies

Andre Robles with Voyagers Travel Company said: “To start getting some revenue earlier we are allowing new bookings to come in with the possibility to change dates freely for 12 months with a 30-day notice. This has helped us acquire one new booking so far for August.”

Travel Industry Insiders Voyagers Riverside Village
Image: Voyagers Travel Company

Other ideas to generate cash flow

  • Chase down commission payments from 2019 and completed travel from 2020.
  • Charge fees for booking custom travel experiences for late 2020 or even 2021.
  • Offer paid consultations for destination weddings and honeymoons.
  • Sell travel gear and travel-related novelty items on your website.
  • Write short travel-related ebooks, or partner with authors who have written them already, to sell on your website.
  • Write travel articles and pitch them for sale to travel bloggers, lifestyle bloggers and other publications.
  • Create travel-related crafts or prints of your travel pictures and sell them online.
  • Declutter your living spaces and sell goods on eBay and Facebook Marketplace.

File for unemployment if you can

As booking travel is the sole source of income for many travel agents, some are scrambling to figure out what to do for money while waiting out the travel restrictions. As stated on USA.gov, “The federal government is allowing states to change their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).”

In fact, some states are allowing self-employed individuals, including travel agents and independent contractors, to apply for unemployment benefits if they are being put out of work by the current crisis.

Tip: A good place to start looking for assistance is your state’s unemployment website.

Apply for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

In a serious pinch, you might want to consider applying for a loan with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA’s website states: “The SBA will work directly with state Governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.”

Related: 8 ways to generate revenue if your business doors are shut

Can you promote your business in the midst of a pandemic?

Absolutely. But keep in mind that people may still not want to book with you at this time. That’s why the best way to promote your business is either by providing the most up-to-date information about the current situation, or by subtly sharing positive travel posts.

Share helpful and/or uplifting content

One travel agent who has been doing this is Maria Stefanopoulos with Ingenious Travel.

“I have loved posting inspiring travel images and quotes on social media,” Maria said, “so I’m providing something other than bad news.”

Maria Stefanopoulos
Maria Stefanopoulos of Ingenious Travel

She is also sharing links to free “virtual” vacations, recipes, helpful tips and more. She knows that many of us are sitting at home looking to escape from the current reality, even if it’s just for a moment through a fun social media update. As a result, she’s increasing her reach and brand awareness.

Related: Using social media to engage with customers in a crisis

Gather customer reviews and testimonials

A great way to utilize this downtime is to reach out to past clients and ask for help promoting your business.

Travel Industry Insiders Susie Chau
Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler

Susie Chau with Carpe Diem Traveler said reviews and word-of-mouth promotions are a great way for past clients to support the travel industry. The simplest of actions can generate big results for small business owners and independent contractors who sell travel.

Tip: Use this time to ask for referrals, reviews and testimonials from past clients.

Related: How to ask for testimonials and reviews from your clients

Now is the perfect time to build new relationships, renew past ones and generate interest in your future travel offerings. After all, promotions right now could be a good way to boost your bookings for after the crisis has died down.

People might not be ready to travel immediately after travel restrictions ease up, but after all the isolation and staying at home, many folks will inevitably get the travel itch. Warm up the market now and you’ll have leads primed when they’re ready to book.

Remember, this will not last forever

“All travel advisers must remember that there will be life after COVID-19, and try to avoid damaging long-standing relationships with clients.” ~ George Morgan-Grenville, Red Savannah

Travel Industry Insiders LIght Shining Through Trees

George Morgan-Grenville of Red Savannah may have said it best, “All travel advisers must remember that there will be life after COVID-19, and try to avoid damaging long-standing relationships with clients.

They should work with them proactively to address their concerns and provide sensible solutions that work for all parties.

Our main focus now remains to deal proactively with clients who wish to defer or cancel travel until later this year or 2021, which we are finding most wish to do. We are being as flexible as possible and handling each client’s plans on a case-by-case basis.”

Although there is much uncertainty right now, it will not last forever. Do what you must to secure income so you can cover your living expenses. However, don’t forget to take care of your clients with the hope that when this does pass, the relationships you’ve built and maintained in a time of crisis can pay you back tenfold or more.

Image by: Erik Odiin on Unsplash