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THE GROUNDING OF TRAVEL

WORDS: SANDY SIRIANNI

 

My son said to me the other day that in 20 years’ time, History students in schools will be studying the impacts of Covid year 2020 in schools – sobering thought. Each of us will never forget this year for differing reasons. 

 

For some, it has been the launching pad into new and exciting endeavours; for others, the chance to slow down and indulge in hobbies they previously hadn’t had time for.  For the travel Industry, it sparked a year that can only be described as totally devastating.  Travel agents were the first to be impacted by the virus and will undoubtedly be the last to recover.

It’s no surprise that with travel bans and international border closures, that all facets of the travel industry would come to a grinding halt.  In my case I had to watch the business I had built up over 29 years be put into hibernation while I sought other employment to sustain my family.  While my earnings went down to $0, I still found myself working up to 10 hour days on client files, making sure my clients were aware of what they were entitled to, submitting refunds, re-organising and rebooking.  I had heard of agents who have had to re-mortgage their homes to refund client bookings, and we have all had to pay back commissions earned from finalised bookings that were cancelled.  I don’t know of any other profession that is expected to give back their wages in the manner that travel agents have had to do.  It is truly gut wrenching when you have spent months on a booking for clients, only to have to repay the wages you earned doing so.

It certainly gave rise to reflection and reorganisation.

The damage wreaked by this virus has been thorough and far reaching.  Not only for the travel industry, but for so many others finding themselves the victims of lockdowns.  It certainly gave rise to reflection and reorganisation.  Here in Cairns, principally a tourist town, Jobkeeper has been a Godsend, although this is soon to be reduced and phased out. Luckily, domestic border openings and the constant whisperings of an imminent vaccine give us a glimpse of hope of a speedy recovery.  I feel that once a vaccine is available and international borders open, that the return to travel will be strong and swift as there is still a very strong demand for travel, and I for one am keen to get back into the thick of it.

In the wake of reopening, I feel there will be a strong turn back to travel agents as a major source of travel bookings. It became very apparent to many, that booking their travel online may have seemed like a great idea, but after waiting on hold for three or more hours to chase up a refund, change or credit, they changed their mind.  Clients who booked with an agent knew that the logistics of their trips would be handled efficiently and effectively without them raising a sweat. After all, when booking online, you are just a number, a dollar value. To an agent, you are so much more. We all value our clients and genuinely go in to bat for each and every one making sure that they get all they are entitled to. 

Being a mobile agent, my clients know that I am available to them whenever required.

Fostering a strong client relationship is the lynchpin for all travel agents.  We can anticipate what our clients would enjoy based on their likes, tailor their travel to their specific needs and provide expert guidance due to our knowledge and constant training in all facets of the industry.  We can save unlimited time, add extra value through partnerships with our suppliers and offer a convenient one stop shop.  Being a mobile agent, my clients know that I am available to them whenever required.  They can contact me at any time whilst away should they encounter a problem, whether it be a flight cancellation, insurance issue or other issue.

Agents will receive notification of flight cancellations usually well before the clients are aware. This gives us the time to look at bookings, make adjustments, or advise on alternatives. Booking online or directly with the airlines does not do this.  We often can book those last seats on flights that don’t show up in other inventory and have our industry contacts who can help assist in an emergency.  This has particularly come to the fore during this crisis with many stranded passengers needing urgent assistance in re-arranging their plans.  We have all their booking details on hand and can quickly and efficiently offer options.

Constant changes in border openings, regulations, credit conditions from airlines, insurers and tour companies have added an extra layer of complexity to the situation.  As agents, we are kept up to date with webinars and Zoom sessions to keep us informed so that we can be best equipped to assist our clients now and when travel resumes. Our clients appreciate the advice they receive from an experienced agent and on the occasions when things to wrong, a good agent cannot be undervalued in their ability to get things back on track again. A good travel agent with their knowledge and industry relationships will always be an asset, but especially during these ever-changing Covid-19 times, once international borders open again, we expect to be busier than ever.

I can offer my clients exclusive experiences they may not have thought of themselves.

In the meantime, there are so many opportunities for us to discover our own great country. Largely Covid free, and with borders now opening, it is the perfect time to experience what Australia has to offer.  Completing an “Australian specialist” training program ensures that I can offer my clients exclusive experiences they may not have thought of themselves.  Most agents have renewed their knowledge in our great country and are poised to take advantage of clients who need to simply get away and have a break from the stresses of the year.

Overall Travel agents have proven to be a resilient bunch and we all simply love what we do.  I for one, don’t plan to go anywhere and while my side hustles help to keep me afloat, rest assured once the dust settles, I will be ready and raring to go!

Written by Jules Steer

OUR YOUTH AND THEIR FINANCIAL LITERACY

2021 RED BERET CAIRNS CUP CARNIVAL AMBASSADOR ANNOUNCED