This story originally ran in the April 30, 2020 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — If there is one silver lining of COVID-19, it’s that the value of travel agents has never been more apparent. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, agents across the country spent countless hours helping to bring stranded clients home, rebooking them for future travel and sifting through rapidly-changing travel policies from suppliers, all while struggling to keep their businesses afloat in the midst of lockdown measures and global travel restrictions.
It has been tireless and demanding work, which is why this year’s Travel Agent Day holds extra significance.
“I think there has never been a greater need to celebrate agents than now,” says Colleen Lorenzen, founder of Travel Agent Day and Operations Manager at Uniglobe Carefree Travel in Saskatoon. “I think that this pandemic is showing that if you have a travel agent, that you are not alone when something happens.”
Lorenzen, who in 2011 came up with the idea of honouring agents every year on the first Wednesday in May, isn’t letting the current lockdown interfere with her plans this year. She planned to leave little gifts on the front porches of her entire staff as a token of her appreciation.
“We know that it is a hard time for our agents so we want to reach out to let them know how much we appreciate what they do,” she adds. “Even in these tough times with agents being laid off or working from home, I would say that you should still reach out to your agents on May 6, even if it is just a call to let them know that you appreciate all the work that they have done to get you where are you are today and to wish them a Happy Travel Agent Day!”
Lorenzen knows all too well the value of her agents, who she says have been doing nothing but C&C – counselling and cancelling – since the start of the pandemic. “We are calling all of our clients who are booked in the next couple of months to touch base with them and let them know that we are here for them. With things changing daily, I don’t know how you would do it without a travel agent,” she adds.
Tour operators wholeheartedly agree. Nino Montagnese, Managing Director at ACV, tells Travelweek that agents have always played an essential role in the industry, especially now during such difficult times.
“As we all learn to adapt to our new realities, I want to take a moment to thank our travel agent community for their commitment and for the trust they continue to put in us,” he says. “Partnerships like ours are the cornerstone of our industry and I believe that with our united strengths, we will be able to share our passion and love for travel with customers again very soon.”
Joseph Adamo, Chief Distribution Officer at Transat and President of Transat Distribution Canada, says that the entire Transat team is greatly appreciative of everything agents have done from the very start: “You have counselled worried travellers, helped reunite families and I know you will be there for your clients when they once again look to travel around this beautiful world.”
And at Globus family of brands, Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director, is assuring agents that the company’s seasoned sales team is on hand to help owners and advisors with everything from business plans and virtual consumer events, to skills training.
“Travel advisors are resilient and resourceful, and together we are better equipped to deal with the massive mountain ahead of us,” she tells Travelweek. “As an extraordinary person once said, ‘ain’t no mountain high enough.’ There is strength in unity so let’s stay together.”
Travelweek checked in with other top tour companies to see how they’re commemorating Travel Agent Day this year despite the ongoing pandemic.
More Travel Agent Day incentives from the Jamaica Tourist Board, Sandals Resorts, Club Med and Windstar, as well as ACV’s new ACV&ME promotion for Travel Agent Day just launched today, can be found here.
There are also messages and shout-outs, plus a few incentives, from Tourism Ireland, Royal Irish Tours, Riviera River Cruises, Serenade Punta Cana and more here.
Plus, check out our May 6 digital issue of Travelweek, with two first-hand accounts from travel agents – one in Toronto, the other in Calgary – who pulled off miracles for their clients amid the coronavirus crisis. Their stories are just two of thousands of similar stories from agents across Canada, working hard to give their clients the best service despite incredible challenges.
THE TRAVEL CORPORATION
Along with the entire TTC team, Jeff Element, President of The Travel Corporation Canada is taking the time to salute travel agents not only on May 6, but every day.
“We would like to express a very sincere thank you to our valued and loyal travel agents across the country,” he says. “Despite these unpredictable times, our industry is incredibly resilient and we will come out of this much stronger together. Our TTC team members are 100% here to support you and are working hard to stay connected whether online or over the phone so we can serve you each business day.”
Trafalgar and Costsaver Canada will be celebrating #AgentsFirst for the entire month of May in support of Travel Agent Day. From May 1-31, agents are invited to join weekly trivia games for the chance to win “some out of this world” prizes, including the grand prize of a $1,000 future travel credit with Trafalgar. More details can be found on the Trafalgar Tribe CA Facebook group.
Contiki will be hosting four online giveaways on the Contiki Canada Travel Agents Facebook group starting at 12 p.m. EST and every hour thereafter until 4 p.m. EST on May 6. To enter, agents must answer the question being asked each hour; if answered correctly, they will be eligible to win travel gift cards for future travel.
Another TTC brand, African Travel, which recently launched the new ‘Living Room Safari’, will be hosting live events from the bush. The first event took place the morning of April 30 featuring Adine Roode, owner of Jabulani safari lodge and the first elephant orphanage in South Africa. The brand is also encouraging agents to continue their education through its advisor resource center featuring newsletters, the Agent Academy and an educational webinar series. The next webinar, ‘We Know Botswana’, is set for May 7.
To reward agents for their efforts, Goway has extended its ‘Golden Ticket’ incentive until Oct. 31, 2020 whereby agents have the chance to win one of 14 gold bars. To be eligible, agents must make a booking with any of Goway’s destinations to Asia, Africa, Central & South America, Downunder, Europe and Idyllic Islands Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2020. All group bookings deposited during this time will also be entered. A spot on Goway’s Golden Mega Fam to Australia this October is also up for grabs.
“We are intertwined and co-dependant, such that every piece of the supply chain is needed to ensure we delight customers,” says John Feenaghty, Goway’s Chief Operating Officer. “Travel advisors are the centre of this universe and we at Goway appreciate the challenges they have been through in recent months. The value though, when all this clears, is that every customer who has been helped by a travel advisor will truly appreciate the difference between DIY and using a skilled agent who ‘has their back’ when things go wrong.”
Ron Lonsdale, Vice President, wishes to thank agents first and foremost for all of their efforts these last few weeks. “We know that the travel market will soon return and there will be an enormous demand for people to see the world. Your clients will play a vital role in fuelling the rebound.”
A brand new video message from Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, President of Collette, can be seen here. Collette is also inviting agents to head to the travel agent network on Facebook to join in on all of Collette’s Travel Agent Day celebrations.
In addition to being “very appreciative” of travel agents’ patience, understanding and flexibility, CEO Frank DeMarinis offers some valuable advice during this difficult time.
“Stay on top of products, attend training workshops, e-universities from suppliers and more,” he says. “Begin to gently reach out to your clients and offer them to research their next vacation so that they are ready when things get back to normal. More importantly, stay healthy, strong and focused.”
On behalf of the entire Intrepid team, Shayna Zand, Head of Business Development for North America, is extending a sincere thank you to agents for Travel Agent Day. “Your clients and those who may have never even booked with an agent before are now, more than ever, really understanding the value of using a travel advisor who not only handles all logistics of their adventure, but also advocates for them when needed.” Intrepid’s Travel Agent Day letter to agents can be seen here.
Intrepid recently launched its new community engagement initiative called #BeTogether to help travellers and travel agents feel connected during this time of isolation. It’s asking agents and their clients to contribute letters to someone who made their travel experience special, which will be shared in the Intrepid Group Agent Insiders Facebook group for Travel Agent Day. Intrepid also plans to host a fun agent trivia evening – virtual, of course – during which agents can win prizes that will help support B-Corp certified companies and local businesses where they live.