Agents and tour ops are riding the recovery wave, even with new challenges

Agents and tour ops are riding the recovery wave, even with new challenges

TORONTO — Travel’s recovery in the wake of COVID-19 has its share of new challenges but travel advisors and tour operators say they’ll take them after two years of pandemic restrictions, worry and hardship.

Prices are on the rise, and the Ukraine situation remains a concern. There’s under-staffing and long turnaround times for quotes. And the inquiry-to-close ratio is still high for many.

And yet the trade is handling it all with characteristic determination and finesse. “FINALLY there’s some real momentum,” says Gateways International’s Director, Marketing & Operations, Talia May, adding that overall “people are truly eager to travel.”

Here’s a look at what agents and tour ops are grappling with right now.

There’s a lot of talk about high prices, from cost-of-living concerns and inflation, to airfares heading skyward because of rising fuel prices and strong demand.

“People really need to act fast. Flight costs are high indeed,” says May. Space is dwindling too, with availability already slim for popular destinations like Italy for the summertime, she adds.

While the travel industry is all too aware of the rising prices, some say they’re not hearing those worries from their clients yet.

Laurielle Penny, Managing Director, Worldwide Quest says traveller concerns right now are not so much about rising prices and availability, “although they should be concerned because prices are rising and availability is very tight everywhere. It’s more around safety related to the Ukraine situation. There is starting to be some concern about rising airfares due to the fuel prices increasing, so [there’s] pressure on folks to book flights now and then get the land arrangements in place.”

Sandra McLeod of Red Door Travel in LaSalle, ON says so far pushback on pricing is rare. But she has an effective response ready for when the subject does come up. “I remind them of the prices we see at the gas pump and grocery store and that companies have been suffering for 2+ years. Reality quickly kicks in.”

Sandy Willett with Vision Travel in Waterloo, ON says many of her clients are in fact making the most of their pandemic savings: “Prices do not seem to be a concern for most people – they are just so happy to be travelling again that they figure they’ve been nowhere for two years and are willing to pay more now.”

Agents and tour operators alike are still seeing much shorter than usual booking windows too. “I had some last minute March Break trips – within a week of departure,” says McLeod. And Willett reports a lot of people are booking last-minute, even for trips to Europe and beyond. On March 23, she had an inquiry for Egypt in April.

Willett also notes that her bookings to Europe are starting to pick up, “although some clients have expressed a concern about the war in Ukraine.”

Over at Collette, GM Brett Walker says bookings from Collette’s U.S. operations are doing well, and Canada is recovering too, slowly. “The invasion and war in Ukraine is stifling things, but no one really knows how much. I would suggest if there is any reprieve from the war, we will see a big surge in bookings.” Collette’s Travel Protection, with its cancel for any reason waiver, has been an extremely effective closing tool, he adds.

Two years of travel’s fits and starts have agents eager to close sales, and complete bookings. But there are challenges on those scores too.

Gilbert Manza, Owner, Executive Travel Services Inc., Woodbridge, ON, says his inquiry-to-closing is still higher than he would like. He attributes that to client hesitancy. “My clients are keen on travelling but there seems to be this sense of uneasiness that has been prevalent in almost all my conversations, because of [the war and COVID concerns], plus the economic impact of higher costs for fuel, food etc. I really think this has put a bit of a damper on people. The pent-up demand is there and people do want to travel. A lot of people take the quotes, thank me for the info and basically just ponder if they should or should not commit. I have closed a number of sales, however the ratio from inquiries to closing sales should be better.”

And when clients are finally ready to book, that process can be slow too. Part of the problem has been the sudden surge in demand, and staffing shortages.

Says Manza: “Getting group quotes, etc. is taking longer than usual and this is most likely attributed to the shortage in trained staff, it’s across all industries and ours is no exception.”

 


For the full story with more feedback from travel advisors and tour operators on price concerns, disruptions, staff shortages and more, check out the March 31, 2022 issue of Travelweek here.