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How Suppliers Are Helping Travel Agents During COVID-19 Outbreak

Amid the ongoing chaos wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, there is one decided bright spot: suppliers are standing by their travel advisor partners with advice and support to help them move forward.

“Suppliers are absolutely going above and beyond to help advisors take care of our clients during these uncertain and challenging times,” said Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler. As a case in point, Chau’s DMC partner, Charmed by Spain, helped her deal with clients who were in Spain when the country declared emergency earlier this month.

“They quickly reorganized transportation to take them to Valencia where their flight was scheduled to depart from and booked their hotel with a flexible check-out date. The local guides even offered that my clients could stay with them in their homes if they could no longer stay in the hotel. They truly treated them like family and put them at ease.”

She added that the hotel’s owners cooked them meals on their last day in Spain when they were quarantined to their room. “My clients were so grateful for the warm treatment they received from all of the suppliers involved,” Chau said.

Suppliers are also working hand-in-hand with agents to “field the insurmountable number of cancellations and changes coming their way, so realistically, all they can do right now is make sure that we are up-to-date with their policy changes as they come in,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise in Chicago. “Our consortium, MAST Travel Network, and ASTA are offering webpages with updates and tools on how best to respond to concerned clients, as well as the media. ASTA is offering weekly webinars with updates from the travel industry and their advocacy work.”

Also, Nowicki noted that suppliers are keeping the agency well informed. “Things are changing by the hour and it takes a lot to make sure that all agents are well-informed with the new information and policies as they come in,” she said.

For his part, James Ferguson of Travel Edge gave a shout out to the cruise industry. “The cruise lines have been particularly forgiving with very liberal cancellation policy updating regularly in concert with the rapidly changing scenarios,” he said. “In particular, Crystal Cruises offered my client an upgrade (at a nominal cost) from their regular suite to the Penthouse for their July 25, 14-day Grand Europe river sailing – which the clients gladly accepted.”

Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations Inc. praised Delta Vacations for disseminating crucial information to agents on a real-time basis. “They are immediately updating policies to help cover travel agents by allowing new rules to help agents protect the money spent on the booking in terms of an agency service fee, offering flexible future credit options, and are the first company out to update their waiver policies…” he said. “Delta Vacations President Jennie Ho and Vice President Kristen Molloy have been open to travel agent suggestions, and are responding in such a fast manner.”

He also praised AIC Hotel Group’s Hard Rock Hotels “for being the first resort brand to proactively release a very flexible rebooking program for worried travelers. Many key resort partners from around the world have followed AIC’s action plan.”

Doncsecz also praised Apple Leisure Group for doing an amazing job at implementing self-help technology through VaxVacationAccess.com to help agents update their bookings, he said. “This will hopefully alleviate wait times for their various companies within their umbrella.”

For Travel Experts, getting information out to its member advisors has been key from the get-go.

“When the coronavirus began to impact the travel industry, we immediately created our own internal information center for the posting and updating of all supplier information and their policies regarding Covid-19,” said Sharon Fake, the luxury host agency’s director of operations. “This information center for our travel advisors is very well-organized for easy access by the advisors and has been the primary resource our advisors are using. It is updated the moment new information is presented.”

Other suppliers that are arming agents with resources include Apple Leisure Group, Travel Leaders Group and Cruise Planners.

“During the downtime we are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of vendors have been reaching out via webinars, phone and email with information about promotions once the pandemic eases up,” said Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel.

She had been planning to attend the now-canceled Visit Scotland Expo on April 1 and 2 in Aberdeen Scotland.

“Several vendors I was scheduled to meet have reached out to me via phone and email. Yesterday I Skyped with the Fife Arms, a luxury hotel in Braemar, Scotland,” Schoeder said. “This is a great way for me to learn about the hotel when I cannot see it in person. Vendors and agents who are pro-active during this trying time will be ready to move forward once the pandemic has settled down.”

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