“Your call is important to us. All our representatives are currently assisting other customers. Your estimated wait time is two to three hours.”
That was a message a lot of travelers heard in March as they called into online booking sites attempting to rebook their travel plans or get a refund. When they finally were able to speak to a live person, in many cases, they weren’t offered much help.
Michelle Fee heard these horror stories too often.
“We heard of some people waiting on hold for over seven hours only to be told there was nothing they could do to help them,” Fee says. “Unfortunately, a lot of these online booking travel agencies were designed for high volume, not a high level of service.”
Fee is the CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, a home-based travel agency franchise company. A former travel agent herself, Fee has always believed in the value of having a professional travel advisor help plan your vacations. She says the pandemic has only made their value more apparent.
“When travel restrictions went into effect, travel agents sprang into action and worked around the clock to get their clients home safely, apply for refunds or credits for future travel and help them rebook a future trip. They truly served as an advocate for their clients and did everything they could to help protect their travel investment.”
Navigating a Quickly Changing Landscape
Where many online travel booking sites fell short, travel advisors stepped up. They were on the phones constantly with travel suppliers, working to navigate complex and quickly changing policies, and ultimately do right by their clients, whether that meant canceling a trip entirely or rescheduling for a later date.
It required long, tedious hours, and Cruise Planners franchise owner Scott Murphy admits it’s been challenging, but he feels a sense of obligation to take as much worry away from his clients as possible.
“As much as I wish I was making sales instead of refunding trips, I had to do the right thing for my clients,” Murphy says. “I focused on walking them through all their options to postpone versus cancel outright so they could make the best decision for themselves.”
Travel is Resilient
Despite the impact the coronavirus has had on the travel industry, travel agents remain optimistic about the future of their business.
“The travel industry is incredibly resilient,” Cruise Planners franchise owner Karen Holmes says. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been hit with a difficult situation, but people love to travel and want to get back out there as soon as possible. I’m focused on prepping for the surge in travel I know is coming.”
Fee is already starting to see that pent-up demand.
She notes that although cruises remain docked, Cruise Planners is a full-service travel agency and has a steady stream of bookings for all-inclusive resorts, luxury properties and villas and local attractions that have started to welcome guests back. Bookings for 2021 also continue to rise.
“We know many travelers are still waiting for a time they feel it’s safer to travel,” Fee acknowledges, “but we also know there is huge pent-up demand for travel. We are seeing strong bookings already for 2021 and we expect there to be an even bigger surge once a vaccine is announced.”
Cruise Planners franchise owner Anoop Mittra echoes that sentiment.
“Humans are wanderers,” he says. “They want to go and see the world.”
Travel Agents Will be Key to the Travel Rebirth
Fee admits it will take some time for the travel industry to fully recover and that travel might look a little different, but she knows travel agents will play a huge role in the industry’s resurgence.
“Travelers are going to want to know they will be safe,” she says. “But with guidelines and policies varying by destination and supplier, it can be a lot to process by yourself. Travel agents will be key to helping travelers navigate this new world and provide guidance on safe destinations and activities.”
She also thinks many travelers who opted to use online booking sites in the past will not want to relive the poor experiences they endured.
“For many people, they only get to take one trip a year,” Fee says. “You never think something is going to go wrong, but if it does, you want to have someone advocating on your behalf to protect your travel investment.”
Why Now is the Right Time to Get Into Travel
Even though the travel industry continues to feel the effects of the coronavirus, Fee believes this is actually one of the best times to get into the travel advisor business.
“No new business is going to get up and running overnight,” she says. “Now is a good time to start—you can even do it part time—so you can establish the foundation of your business, learn about the industry and be in a position to capitalize on the pent-up demand for travel in 2021.”
Looking to take your travel advisor business to the next level? See how Cruise Planners gives you the tools and resources you need to be successful. Significant discounts are available to existing travel agents. Learn more at www.cruiseplannersfranchise.com.