TORONTO — This was a transformative year for travel, in more ways than one.
The biggest change this year? Travel’s back, of course.
The year may have started with trepidation, as the pandemic continued to rage.
But an interesting thing happened as the omicron variant spread in the early weeks of 2022 – case counts soared, but hospitalizations didn’t climb as high as feared.
By mid-February, the federal government was announcing the next phase of lifted restrictions.
And by April 1, the government had dropped the pre-arrival COVID testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Canada. “Today is the day many of us have been waiting for,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, as he made the announcement.
What followed was a long-awaited and much-celebrated return to travel for Canadians, and for the Canadian travel industry.
Of course it wasn’t without turbulence. Who will ever forget the hours-long lineups at major gateways like Pearson Airport, as air travel’s infrastructure struggled to meet unprecedented levels of pent-up demand? Missed flights, flight delays and cancellations followed, along with plenty of consumer and industry frustration.
CHANGES FOR 2022, PREDICTIONS FOR 2023
Through all the changes, travel agents persevered. And as it turns out, agents made a few changes of their own.
For this year-end edition of Travelweek Daily, we asked travel agents, what change did you make in 2022, and how did this change positively impact your business?
And since an end-of-year wrap-up wouldn’t be complete without a look ahead to next year, we also asked agents to predict their biggest sellers for 2023.
Here’s what they told us …
“Things I changed in 2022 … one, I charge fees more consistently. When I explained my fees and why I charge them, clients expected me to charge them (even though there are always outliers). And two, letting go of things I can’t control and not worrying about them. This is a work in progress but has relieved a lot of the stress I put on myself (especially over the last two years).
“For 2023: Exotics (Galapagos, Hawaii, Antarctica). And Europe.”
“For 2022 I began implementing a service fee for almost all of my bookings, as opposed to just the complicated ones. Dealing with the mayhem of getting clients home at the onset of the pandemic was a testament to just how much extra work we do that goes unpaid and it had a ripple effect in a positive way. I definitely felt more confident and comfortable about implementing service fees this year than I did in previous years where I feared it might affect my sales. By being consistent with implementing service fees, it actually helped me get more serious bookings.
“For 2023, I think the best-sellers are going to be those bucket-list trips, and luxury travel. Whether it’s visiting the pyramids of Egypt, sailing to Antarctica or riding Rocky Mountaineer through the Canadian Rockies, there is a form of urgency to make these kinds of once-in-a-lifetime trips a reality. Booking requests have come in for travel well into 2023 and even 2024. It’s an exciting time to be in the travel industry!
The Travel Agent Next Door
“I started using Travefy to prepare and present proposals & itineraries this year and the feedback has been amazing! My clients are very impressed with the design, and they love that all of their documents are available to them in a single location which is accessible online while they travel. Being able to present professional proposals which integrate video and images has definitely resulted in more sales. The time savings has also been a huge benefit, as creating proposals and itineraries manually was much more time consuming. I have also integrated secure online forms to my workflow for new client intake, trip approvals, insurance waivers and payments. This has been a significant time-saver in terms of cutting down on back and forth correspondence with clients and it provides a much more streamlined & professional image for my business.
“I expect that my biggest sellers in 2023 will continue to be family trips to Australia and New Zealand. Given that these countries were largely closed to visitors over the past few years, and given that they offer so many varied experiences for travellers, I expect that there will be continued significant demand to visit these destinations in 2023.”
Infinite Departures Travel
“I’m declining a lot of air only bookings, or I charge a hefty fee. Even with the fee it’s simply not worth it to be on hold with an airline should the client require some support with their flight. I still offer to help them by giving them the Google Flights tool or Skyscanner and explaining we really don’t get much different pricing when it comes to flights.
“I’m insisting I have passports in hand from clients before booking or sometimes even quoting. Having them even at the quoting stage shows they’re committed to working together. Sometimes I will charge a consult fee. And before every client gets their documents, I send an email with tips so they feel confident and prepared.
“I’ve also been checking in more with clients during different stages of their trips, ie. did you do your online check-in, did you download ArriveCAN, are you at the airport and how is your stress level, did you arrive ok at the resort, how is your room? I try to give them a comfort level by doing some hand-holding and monitoring, and trying to listen more about how they’re feeling emotionally about travel vs. talking with them about the risks. This has paid off, I’m getting more referrals and I’m busier than ever.
“I’ve hired a part-time student assistant, she has been a godsend. I had her do her TICO and she has been handling some of my sales including my insurance quotes. I pay her an hourly wage plus sales incentives. I’m looking to hire another part-timer.
“I’m also trying to have more of an initial actual phone conversation with a new client, to get to know each other the old-fashioned way and establish a relationship and rapport rather than do everything by email. I take the time to explain how pricing works and the value of a travel advisor and how they will pay the same price anyways no matter where they go. I find nipping that in the bud right at the start saves frustration later especially when requests are flooding in. When it’s really busy, I try to have an auto response message that tells everyone who emails me there are delays right now due to high demand and to please be patient. And I’m trying my hardest to take a break one day a week, for my own sanity.
“For 2023, I’m still not seeing a lot of cruising take off just yet, it’s more resorts. LOTS of requests to avoid Toronto airport. I’ve had some clients do multiple trips this year to make up for lost time. People are catching up on their bucket lists.”
Uniglobe Enterprise Travel Ltd.
“This year felt like the year of recovery and looking ahead to the future. I decided to put my health first, lost close to 50 lbs, became a fitness instructor and personal trainer and most importantly, I stopped drinking. Many of us in the travel industry turn to a glass – or three – of wine at the end of the day and that can really start to take a toll on all aspects of health and wellbeing. My new business currently in development, AFLifeJourney.com, offers curated alcohol-free bucket list-worthy trips, where we get to explore the world without alcohol taking centre stage. How many vacations days have people missed with hangovers? I once missed an opportunity to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge because I had a hangover. I hope I get a second chance to do that.
“The more specific the niche, the more you can narrow it down, the better. You can find your people through your interests, hobbies, hidden talents, and other things you are good at. It will probably take some time, with some successes and failures, but that’s how we learn.
“MyWeddingAway and Thaihoneymoons are still going strong, and I have been taking some opportunities to travel a little farther abroad to boost consumer confidence in long-haul and to see what’s new and how things have changed. I was in Jordan in October and that trip was amazing.
“Finally, I am really looking at suppliers and who they partner with, how they operate regarding sustainable travel on a social and environmental level.
“In 2023 I would like to put a few groups trips together with a focus on wellness. One to Jordan and one to Thailand. Not retreats but rather stepping into what is possible when we step out of our comfort zones.”
MyWeddingAway.com and Thaihoneymoons.com