Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion Travel Group
The impact to the travel industry created by COVID-19 continues to change and will do so for quite some time. As I mentioned in last month’s column, the silver lining is the travel industry is strong and takes care of one another, so like other industry disruptions in the past, we WILL get through this. It will take some innovation and adaptability on everyone’s part, but together, we can do this.
This month, I’d love to share additional advice on ways you can protect your business, your passion and your clients, so you can endure these challenging times.
Do You Have a Plan?
Hopefully, you’ve set up a contingency plan for your agency in case you or your staff are affected by COVID-19. If not, it’s not too late but something you’ll want to make a priority. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Can your business fully function if you or any staff become ill and you’re unable to support your customers for a few days, weeks or longer? How will you handle illnesses or self-quarantines?
- Do you have someone who can back you up and cover for your clients? If you’re a solo entrepreneur or independent travel advisor, you probably don’t have staff you can turn to. So, you may want to proactively reach out to your network of fellow travel advisors now and say something like, “If I’m unable to manage my customers for a few days, can you cover for me, and I would be happy to do the same thing?” Nexion Travel Group, for example, has a Nexion Buddy System group on its social networking community to help connect advisors.
- Do you have a succession plan? I know this is a tough topic for many, but I’m hearing from more advisors that are saying that maybe now’s the time to start thinking about retirement or closing their business. It’s important to have a succession plan. You have customers, and they are an asset. What is your plan for these customers? Is your business something you want to sell or transition to another travel advisor or agency owner? If yes, you’ll want to have some kind of financial agreement.
Now Is the Time to Engage
There is no better time than the present to stay connected with your clients and engage in that person-to-person conversation. Call your clients to maintain human connection. Listen and be empathetic. Send them a hand-written note to say you’re thinking about them. In having these conversations, there may be an opportunity to guide them toward comfort destinations or different types of travel.
We’ve also seen success with some agencies reselling insurance to clients who initially declined. There may be an opportunity for you to do that, as you’re having conversations with your clients again. Remember, though, that in most states or provinces, you’re somewhat limited in soliciting or negotiating travel insurance, so be sure to direct clients to the appropriate insurance company you work with or set up a three-way call with someone experienced who can answer questions to limit liability in answering questions.
Remember, being the best advocate for your clients makes you stand out in the crowd. Your clients know you’re taking care of them over big-box retailers or online travel agencies, so now’s your time to shine and remind them of your value.
Capitalize on Down Time
Some of you may have a bit of down time, as close-in travel is now quieter. There are things that you can be doing during this time to ensure you are successful when travel bounds back – and it will!
- Diversify. Consider diversifying a bit in terms of what you sell, especially if your niche or specialty has been heavily affected recently. Review destinations and travel styles you sell to determine if they may be positively or negatively affected with travel restrictions. Also look at your customer base and who is still wanting to travel, as travel habits will probably differ by generation.
- Invest in your personal development. Now may be a good time to take training in some of the areas where you’re not as up to date, or there may be an opportunity to get out there and network virtually or in person when your local area allows it and talk to people to drum up new business.
- Clean up your CRM. If you have a CRM, or Customer Relationship Management program, consider reviewing client profiles and cleaning up your database (Nexion Travel Group offers its members a CRM included with their membership). Look at each profile not only to ensure you have complete and accurate information, including birthdays, anniversaries and other key milestonescaptured but also to trigger customers you may want to reach out to just to have a “thinking about you and checking in” conversation. So, spring cleaning and connections go hand in hand.
Don’t Adopt a Bunker Mentality
Now is the time to communicate, communicate, communicate. Did I mention that there’s no such thing as over communication? Communicate often with employees and subagents, if you have them, fellow independent travel advisors, your supplier partners you work with and most importantly, your customers. Keep them informed of changes and opportunities.
As important, if not more important, is to communicate with your customers in both general terms and very specific communication based on where they might be traveling to. Some additional tips:
Shift promotional plans and traveler conversations. For those of you who have marketing plans, really give some thought to shifting those promotional plans and the traveler conversations that you have. What you’re planning to promote might be very different from what you actually should be promoting right now.
Ensure you stay on top of special offers suppliers are offering and their promotions or amenities for postponed for future sailings or vacations. There are a lot of changes being announced, but many of the industry publications as well as your host agency or consortia have centralized microsites or pages to help you keep track of these fluid offers and updates.
Prepare for promotions and incentives. For those of you who were in the industry post-9/11, you might remember that people were reluctant to travel for quite a while, and price points dropped. These times are unprecedented, for sure, and I and industry experts believe that there will be a pent-up demand for consumers to travel once they are able to. Make yourself aware of promotions and incentives, and look for the ones that are most relevant to your customers.
Encourage your clients to rebook versus canceling. One strategy to say is, “You have credit; let’s use it!” Of course, you always want to remain empathetic and not force fearful customers to travel. In the long run, showing empathy now and actively listening to your client will pay off in the long run and allow you to capitalize on the future.
Here is a quote from a Nexion travel advisor about showing empathy with clients that I love, “There’s no point in trying to put a Band-Aid on a severed artery, but if you take them for stiches, they will never forget your kindness.”
Remember, you are not in this alone. Find support from your peer networking groups and lean on each other. Stay in touch with close supplier representatives you have relationships with. Take advantage of the many support and networking resources that your host agency has in place to help you in your business. We’re in this together. #NexionStrongerTogether