Learning to navigate through the global pandemic is challenging for any travel company, which is why Collette is doing it with the support of travel agents. In this week’s Take Five interview, we sit down with Vice President Ron Lonsdale who says it’s absolutely essential to be supporting agents at this time, and this means not recalling advanced commissions and implementing policies that “put the travel advisor at the forefront of the customer experience.” Here’s what else he had to say about new travel trends and what clients can now expect on a Collette tour:
- What’s the status of your global operations at this time?
Collette began successfully resuming operations with domestic travel in the United States in early July. Right now, here in Canada, like so many others, we are waiting for travel borders to open once again, in order to resume operations.
- When guests are ready to travel again, what changes can they expect on a Collette tour?
There is no denying that life and travel will look a little different for the foreseeable future. As part of our travelling well experience, in this new age of physical distancing and mask wearing, we are doing our part by ensuring there is ample space on the motor coach to spread out and feel comfortable. High-touch areas are being cleaned and sanitized multiple times a day, and anti-bacterial gel is available at all times. Tour managers have received specific training on COVID-19 prevention as well as response protocols that will be used on tour. Ultimately, people will always want to see the world, learn, interact with different people and experience different cultures. The demand for these experiences will continue to grow. That said, we think many of the hygiene and touch-free protocols implemented across the spectrum of travel services are here to stay.
- Obviously, the pandemic has been devastating for the entire travel industry. But what good has come out of it, in your opinion?
Our guests in the United States have been extremely receptive to new protocols through our Traveling Well experience, and thankful that we are investing time and resources into consulting with health and security experts around the world to ensure a healthy and enjoyable travel experience. In post-tour surveys, the overwhelming majority of our guests felt that the precautionary measures had zero impact on their enjoyment of the tour. For those guests here in Canada whose tours have been cancelled due to border restrictions, we have heard from travel agents over and over who are so thankful for the flexibility and choice we’ve provided our mutual customers, which ultimately resulted in full cash refunds to guests of $115 million dollars as of today. We have always put the customer and agent first, and will continue to do so long after this pandemic.
- What new travel trends do you foresee as a result of the pandemic?
We know that guests feel comfortable in smaller groups, so we’ve already reduced the maximum capacity on tours for the near term to allow plenty of space to stretch out and have a more intimate experience on tour. We’re continuing to expand the product lineup on our Explorations small group touring line and enhanced our product offering for Private Touring, which allows a small pre-formed group to take an entire published departure exclusively for themselves. We’re experiencing strong numbers for May 2021 and beyond and are hopeful that borders will continue to open so that we can get guests back to doing what they love.
- How are you supporting travel advisors during this difficult time?
The travel market will return soon and there will be an enormous demand for people to see the world. Travel advisors who have strong relationships with their customers will play a vital role in fueling the rebound. It’s essential that we support our travel advisor partners in maintaining those relationships by having policies in place that put the travel advisor at the forefront of the customer experience. We continue to focus on the relationships that travel advisors have made with their clients over many years by providing flexible options for their clients during these difficult times. Our team is always looking at ways that we can support the travel agent community and recognize their hard work and dedication. Times like these are why travel agents are so valued and will play a more pivotal role in our wonderful industry. We understand this pandemic has been very difficult and challenging on them so we will never recall the advanced commission if the clients cancels their trip.