This story originally ran in the April 9, 2020 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Travel is resilient by nature and so too, by extension, are travel agents. Travelweek checked in with a consortium, a chain and a host agency to see what morale is like, and to get tips for coping during these difficult times. Here’s what they had to say…
NEXION TRAVEL GROUP
According to Mike Foster, CTC-President of Nexion Travel Group-Canada, morale on the team is better than he could ever hope for or expect. Foster says his colleagues and Nexion’s advisors are “all focused and serving” and are “energized” by the many clients who’ve been patient and supportive. The biggest challenge for advisors thus far, he says, has been delivering information and various options from suppliers that are ever-changing and sometimes very challenging to explain.
“I do completely understand the challenge for suppliers on this issue – I can find very few examples to complain about. But the reality is that advisors are being forced to explain changing and challenging policies and offers that they are not responsible for,” he says.
Foster is quick to add that Nexion’s supplier partners have “done the best that they can under unimaginable circumstances that are also largely beyond their control.”
While Nexion has had to make a few adjustments to minimize the impact the pandemic has had on its operations, Foster remains “very confident” about the future of the industry. His advice for other agencies? To act quickly and carefully, but also to not make big decisions without thinking things through.
“This will pass, and it is important to be strong and ready to serve once our services are in demand once more,” he says. “However, if things become too challenging, some people may want to consider the option of working with a host agency. Canada has a number of really good host agencies, and they can help with eliminating or reducing expenses and provide access to tools and supplier relationships. The result could be less expenses and greater income. That, in turn, may make it easier to ride out this storm.”
As for the possibility of financial aid, including the 75% wage subsidy program (CEWS) announced by the federal government last month, Foster says that Nexion, which he calls a “very strong organization,” hasn’t considered financial relief – yet – as focus has been mainly with its advisors for now. He does add, however, that he’ll have a closer look at possible options because “we owe that to our member advisors and their clients.”
And as an active ACTA board member, Foster continues to be impressed by everything ACTA and its President, Wendy Paradis, have done to support agents.
“I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that ACTA’s efforts are so appreciated,” he says. “Agencies and advisors need help, and I hope that the aid offered by the federal government helps everyone through this very rough stretch before we get fully back to business again.”
Like Nexion, the mood at Flight Centre has been “surprisingly good,” says Allison Wallace, VP, Corporate Communication & CSR. The team has “really rallied around each other, understanding that we are truly in this together and that, ultimately, we will persevere.”
Keeping morale up, she adds, involves sharing good news stories about clients the agency has helped, and the many stories of advisors going “above and beyond” for their clients and each other. “It’s incredibly heartwarming and helps us stay optimistic about the future,” says Wallace.
This isn’t to say that Flight Centre hasn’t struggled in recent weeks, like many other agencies. In light of the pandemic, the company has implemented cost-saving measures across the business, from the top down. Senior leadership has also taken salary cuts, layoffs were made, and the dividend on Flight Centre’s parent company stock has been eliminated. As a result, financial aid from the government is “critical” for the agency, says Wallace.
“The industry is facing unprecedented restrictions, which has dramatically reduced travel demand worldwide,” says Wallace. “Our last resort will always be to lay off people and we’ve already had to do that despite other cost-saving measures being implemented. We know that it’s the most challenging time that’s ever faced the travel industry, but we also know that it will have an end point.”
Like all other businesses, TL Network has had to implement some cost-saving measures in the wake of the pandemic. But according to Christine James, Vice President-Canada, the company has done so “without compromising the level of support our members through this challenging time.”
James, who has participated in regular conference calls with Paradis at ACTA, is recommending all members take advantage of any government aid that’s being offered, as soon as possible.
TL Network is also assisting advisors and managers through a number of webinars that have launched over the past three weeks, which highlight best practices and measures that may minimize the fallout from the pandemic. These range from cost-cutting initiatives and tips on rebooking clients, to customer service tips like reaching out to past clients to let them know they are ready to serve them when the time is right.
“Our members are naturally facing the challenge of dealing with cancellations and rebooking their clients,” says James. “The most difficult hurdle for our members is staying on top of the ever-evolving polices that suppliers are rolling out. We completely understand the position that suppliers are in, but we sympathize with our members who are struggling to deal with client concerns and their anxieties.”
James adds that TL Network is working closely with key suppliers to share feedback from its members that include policy recommendations that will assist them and their clients.
She also says that the key to getting through all this is positivity: “We are all remaining positive and doing everything within our power to support our members through these challenging times.”