Myth or reality: Are travel agents really booking more new clients nowadays?

Myth or reality: Are travel agents really booking more new clients nowadays?

TORONTO — Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve heard time and time again how travel agents have never been more valued – or needed – as travel became increasingly more complicated.

With everything from COVID-19 testing and insurance, to ever-changing travel requirements and border closures, post-pandemic travellers have had to rely heavily on travel agents these past two years to help navigate the endless barrage of day-to-day information and challenges. Those who’ve sought out the services of an agent prior to the pandemic came back without hesitation, while others who usually booked travel on their own were now asking for guidance.

After gathering insights from travel advisors and ultra-high net worth clientele, and conducting surveys and tapping into its data warehouse, Virtuoso has found that requests from people seeking a travel agent grew 50% in 2021 compared to 2020. Travelweek’s own 2021 Consumer Survey, conducted in June 2021 with 2,599 consumers across Canada, found that 59% of respondents are now more likely to book with a travel agent. And now that the federal government will be eliminating pre-arrival PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers starting Feb. 28, travel agent bookings are only expected to increase in the next coming months.

But we wanted to hear from travel agents themselves: of the clients that are now ready to travel and booking trips, how many are actually new to them? Is it true what they say – are more people actually turning to travel agents for help? Here’s what a few told Travelweek:

Cindy Gaudet,, Winnipeg, MB

“I would say 30% of our clients are new with a combination of referral and walk-ins since January 2022 at our storefront. We had put serious thought into not having walk-ins but quickly realized that clients want to book now. We heard from some of our walk-ins that other agencies weren’t taking walk-ins, so we actually gained clients just by having an open-door policy.

“The biggest surprise has been clients who used to book their own cruises are now wanting advisors to handle their future bookings.

“Advisors looking to expand their client base should think about customer referral programs, even something as simple as a Starbucks gift card. Cross-promotion is something I have always done with locally-owned businesses, especially now when everyone wants to use an advisor. Even try something simple like a locally-owned spa and offering to put a 15% discount for a pedicure before their vacation in exchange for referrals. Social media is another strong avenue that works – by showing how advisors themselves are travelling and what is required for clients to travel has really worked well for us.”

Carol Murray, Owner, Your Vacation Home, Concord, ON

“I have seen a 10% increase in new clients these past few months. Clients are telling me that travel has changed, and that straightforward trips are no longer straightforward. They’re not able to see all the options, whereas an agent has a larger overall view. Clients seem to feel more relaxed and confident using an agent more than ever, and are okay with the service fees that we charge to look after them.

“Most new clients came mostly from referrals from previous clients. One big group came from a neighbourhood Facebook post. My advice to other agents would be to keep marketing to your existing and prospective clients and ask them to refer their friends and relatives to you.”

Gary Rams, Soft Adventure Specialist, Associated with Crowfoot Travel Solutions, Calgary, AB

“I have seen about a 20% growth from new clients in the past few months, and another 20% growth from clients who have used my services for a long time. A lot of clients who we’ve helped the last two years with all the restrictions are now going out or visiting friends and they always talk about travel.

“I find many agents are using social media a lot more and have mastered it. But for those like myself who are not very good at social media, I find the best leads come from word of mouth. I always pass a few cards to clients and ask them to share with friends and family if and when travel comes up. Also, contact people you have not contacted for a while. I don’t like to send a lot of emails but I do just enough so they know I’m around.”

Louie Di Tacchio, Owner, Progress TravelPlus, Ajax, ON

“I have seen a 20% increase of brand new clients in the past few months. To find new clients, I’ve spent some money on Google as well as social media. Remember to promote yourself or your agency within the community.”

Ocean Phi Long Le, Bodad Travel, Toronto, ON

“I’ve seen an increase with referrals. These new clients have been referred to me by existing clients who have experienced first hand the help travel agents have provided them during the pandemic. One of my clients told her friends that when she booked through me, she didn’t have to lift a finger to call the airline and deal with the long hold times her other friends experienced when they booked themselves. She didn’t have to deal with the airlines, hotels or tour company – her agent took care of everything.

“Now clients who normally book themselves want that extra assistance because travel agents are informed with the ever-changing entry rules and provide valuable information, including travel insurance, airline cancellation policies and much more. And remember: if you treat your current clients like VIPs, you don’t have to ever advertise for new clients.”