TORONTO — More than half of Canadian travel agents estimate that their year-on-year sales will be down by more than 75% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while layoffs, shortened work weeks and other cost-cutting measures are the new normal at agencies across the country, according to Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey.
Responses to the survey, which went out in late April with hundreds of retail travel agents across Canada taking part, also show the resilience, good humour and, ultimately, optimism of Canadian travel agents and the retail travel sector in these unprecedented times.
More insights and stats will be included in COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey articles all this week in Travelweek Daily and on Travelweek.ca, covering everything from Supplier Relations, to Destinations, to Concerns for the Industry, and Future Opportunities in a post-pandemic world.
IMPACT ON YEAR-OVER-YEAR SALES
Asked what impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on 2020 sales versus 2019, 55% of agents say their 2020 sales will be down 75% or more. Another 36% say sales will be down 50 – 74%.
Not surprisingly, 61% of agents say they will apply for COVID-19 emergency assistance programs launched by the federal government, including wage subsidy program CEWS, business loans through CEBA and/or a cash infusion via CERB.
Some of the relief programs are scheduled to end mid-June. ACTA President Wendy Paradis says ACTA’s lobbying efforts continue to get these programs extended for travel agencies. “The current zero revenue environment is certainly not sustainable,” she says.
There are 14,000 large and small travel agency businesses in Canada, notes Paradis. Over 90% are considered small businesses. “Our industry has suffered greatly over the past several weeks due to the COVID-19 virus, and we expect that this critical financial situation will continue throughout most of 2020,” Paradis tells Travelweek.
Layoffs have impacted more than half of respondents, with 51% saying their agency had been forced to lay off staff amid the pandemic, or that they had been laid off themselves.
Agents say other cost-cutting measures include wage cuts and reduced hours. “All discretionary spending has been cut, we are in survival mode [to] conserve cash,” says one agent. “Laying off office staff. Rent still due as well as other utilities and TICO costs,” says another.
Agents who are still working are – like just about everyone else during this crisis – working from home. “Everyone is working from home. No fam trips for this year, and maybe next year,” says one agent.
Adds another: “We have had to eliminate all third-party vendors for products that add value to our agents and clients. We have also had to layoff 70% of staff and the remaining staff have been reduced to three-day work weeks.”
Asked about their biggest frustrations when it comes to clients, as the retail sector does its best to assist travellers with cancellations and rebookings on a huge volume of trips, 50% of agents say they’re most frustrated by clients who request refunds in lieu of future travel credits. Over a third of respondents, 35%, said fear and hesitation about future travel were most frustrating.
The ever-changing situation is wearying, says one agent, who summed it up for many in retail travel: “If I hear the word ‘fluid’ one more time I will scream.”
Other agents responded: “Lack of patience in sorting out their credits or refunds.” “Consumers wanting to receive refunds more quickly than the current situation can handle.” “Ignored warnings to return home.”
That said, agents know clients are frustrated and upset about their trip cancellations, and are working to counsel them and guide the rebooking process.
“Most clients have been great and understanding,” says one agent.
“99% of my clients have been understanding and grateful for our assistance to them during this crisis,” said another agent.
Watch for more coverage and stats all this week from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Travel Agent Survey.