TORONTO — Product launches. Winter sun brochures. Clients calling to take advantage of EBBs for their winter getaway. Families booking their favourite all-inclusive resort for the holiday break. This is usually one of the busiest times for the travel industry. It all starts in the waning days of summer and really ramps up as we head into the first weeks of fall, when a nip in the air reminds Canadians that cold and snowy days are coming.
This year, of course, is different.
The pandemic has completely upended normal travel booking patterns, to the point that most Canadians aren’t travelling at all. The travel restrictions have been in place for more than six months. Canadian travellers still have to quarantine when they return to Canada, and the prospect of 14 days of quarantine, with all the hassle and complications that come with it, won’t be any more attractive in the fall and winter months than it was in spring and summer.
And yet some Canadians are travelling. Plus, earlier this month, major players including Air Canada, WestJet, ACV and Sunwing all announced new – and free – COVID-19 insurance coverage, easing a major peace-of-mind stumbling block for many would-be travellers. Manulife itself announced its Manulife COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan coverage, starting in October.
So where does that leave the travel industry? Heading into what’s normally the start of the busiest booking season, Canadians are still officially advised against all non-essential travel outside of Canada. Some clients are travelling anyway, and now they can get COVID-19 travel insurance. Most clients however are still hesitant to travel, although that could change in the coming weeks as word gets out about the new insurance offerings. So what now? We checked in with two travel retailers and a wholesaler.
THE TRAVEL AGENT NEXT DOOR’S FLEMMING FRIISDAHL
“You can go crawl under a rock until COVID-19 is gone or be very proactive and get in touch with your customers,” says Flemming Friisdahl, Founder, The Travel Agent Next Door. “I am all about talking to your customers.”
He adds: “I believe strongly that you should be reaching out to your clients to find out a) how are they holding up and b) what would be their dream vacation, not now but later. Don’t make it a call about selling, but about connecting and showing they are in your thoughts.”
Friisdahl advises agents to book some group space “NOW, as many suppliers have some great offers into 2024. Block the space so in a few months when your customers are ready to book and the offers are no longer available you have something nobody else has.”
Friisdahl says he knows some travel professionals don’t believe it’s a good idea to be advertising travel, “but I believe it is a good idea, as long as you are careful. Consumers based on a number of studies want to be looking forward to a trip. Now with COVID-19 coverage from many suppliers, a vaccine on the horizon (yes, still some time to go) and with many suppliers offering amazing flexibility in making a booking, now is the time to get something booked. You want to do this so your customers have something to look forward to.”
He adds: “I strongly believe the next 4 to 5 months should be focused on spending time with present customers and developing new ones. We have to stay with it, so when we come out of it we will be on top.”
For more from Flemming, as well as insights from Collette’s Ron Lonsdale and Brett Walker, and Direct Travel’s Stephen Smith, click here to read the article in the Sept. 24 issue of Travelweek.