TORONTO — Poll results from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey show that while many front-line agents continue to work tirelessly to keep up with all the C&Cs – counselling and cancellations – they’re also feeling the pressure as the go-betweens with clients and suppliers, thanks to high volumes of policy changes and suspension of operations extensions.
Several hundred travel agents from across Canada took part in the survey, which ran in late April.
Scroll down below the infographic for more stats from the survey plus feedback from agents as well as from suppliers including ACV, Transat, Goway, TravelBrands and more…
Agents and suppliers are working around the clock under unprecedented industry conditions amid the pandemic, and overall there’s a sense of solidarity in the industry.
Many suppliers have stepped up to dispute credit card chargebacks on behalf of agents. Many suppliers, especially cruise lines, have also protected agent commission. “I am so thankful for all that protected our commission and chargebacks!” said one agent.
Another agent added: “I appreciate the fact that we’re all in this together and none of us was ready for the full impact of the cancellations.”
VOUCHERS, REFUNDS & COMMISSION PROTECTION
A strong majority of agents, 76%, say that for the most part they feel suppliers have done a good job managing the COVID-19 crisis and assisting travel agent partners.
That said, frustrations can run high as agents work to assist clients amid ever-changing cancellation and rebooking policies, especially when some clients are asking for refunds instead of future travel credits. It’s been a thorny issue in countries around the world, and agents are caught in the middle.
“The suppliers for the most part have done a good job and [are] being flexible, but consumer confidence is very low, especially in Canada as the ‘voucher’ option has not been well received. They will need to do more, offer more, when things start up again,” says one agent.
Many agents responding to the survey had concrete feedback for suppliers amid the COVID-19 pandemic:
. “Having a separate agent phone line so we don’t have to sit on hold for 4 hours”
. “If suppliers are opting for an online form in lieu of phone calls, then the supplier should ensure that there is a confirmation number provided to confirm receipt”
. “Most suppliers have done a great job. There have been a couple that have been extremely difficult to deal with and you have no idea what their policies are unless you are on the Facebook group.”
Commissions are also a hot-button issue, not surprisingly, with 25% of agents saying lack of commission protection is their biggest frustration with suppliers. “Agent commission should be protected even if the client opts for cancellation and not future credit. Our job has been done without compensation,” says one agent, echoing the words of many respondents.
Long wait times to reach supplier call centres was named the biggest frustration by 38% of agents, and suppliers who don’t support agents in credit card chargeback situations, by 16% of agents.
Asked what they’re doing to help agents amid the pandemic, and about any lessons learned, suppliers say the pandemic has only driven home the importance of travel agents.
“We want everyone to know just how much we value their support and patience while we continue to work through this challenging time,” says Talia May at Gateways International. “At the end of the day, we just want our agents and mutual passengers to know we are here to help them.”
May adds: “We have been working diligently with our valued agent partners and their passengers to answer all their questions, work with our partners around the world to offer the most flexible options and ultimately assess each booking to determine options. On a case-by-case basis, we provide several choices including moving deposits to future date and any destination we offer, etc.”
Air Canada Vacations Managing Director Nino Montagnese says ACV has worked hard to be as flexible as possible for its agents partners, even though “we have all been dealing with moving targets not knowing when or if we will be able to fly from month to month.”
Montagnese adds: “We’ve protected commissions on all FTCs in trying to help our industry partners. ACV has also turned all FTCs to 24 months, [we] allow FTCs to be transferred to another person [and] we’ve also changed policy to allow any residual amount left after booking to be kept on the FTC – no one will lose any money.
“Our motto will be to continue to support our partners the best we can. Communication has been key for ACV.”
Transat spokesperson Debbie Cabana says it’s about getting as much information as possible out to agents, “as quickly as possible, as the situation evolves.” Transat is staying in touch with agents via its Get Connected channel and Facebook as well as via e-mail, help memos and informative videos.
TravelBrands launched its FTC tool last month, looking to make it as easy as possible for its travel agent partners to get updated invoicing for PNRs with cancelled flights. Using the new tool, available at TravelBrands’ Access agent portal, agents can accept or waive the FTC offered by airlines for cancelled air tickets. When it comes to cruise, agents can make a booking online and send TravelBrands an email with the booking number to cruisebookonline@travelbrands.
Over at Goway, meanwhile, the focus is on new ways to consult with agents, and enhance the 3-way calls that Goway currently offers between the agent, their client, and Goway’s destination experts.
“We’ve found that the conversion on files where the agent needs our destination expertise to be significantly higher,” says Goway’s Chief Operating Officer, John Feenaghty. Goway has also brought back most of its res staff, he says, and that means faster processing for cancellations, postponed arrangements and insurance claim assistance. “We are now looking to the future and strategies to assist agents in re-building their future bookings when borders re-open for international travel,” he says.
Just like the retail sector, wholesalers and tour operators are looking forward to better days, and can’t help but marvel at how the industry has pulled together. “I have to say I’m impressed how our industry has adapted to the ever-changing environment, we’ve all had to react and adapt quickly,” says Montagnese.
Adds May: “As difficult as it has been for all of us, we know wholeheartedly we will come out of this with an even stronger passion for this industry.”
WORDS OF PRAISE
Despite some difficult situations, agents have positive words for suppliers, especially cruise lines.
“I think, given the enormous amount of stress and how quickly things changed during the initial border closures, most suppliers have done the best they could under these circumstances,” said one. Another adds: “Most have been very flexible and fair.”
And this agent sums it up for many: “I recognize that this is an unprecedented issue for the travel industry. The vast majority of suppliers are doing the best they can.”
Watch for more coverage all this week from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey. The first story in this series can be read here.