While it’s clear that the pandemic hasn’t put an end to the desire to travel, how clients book and the priorities they now hold have undoubtedly shifted. This modified attitude towards travel has manifested in a variety of ways, not least of all in creating a new dimension of discourse between brands, advisors and their clients.
The urge to travel, coupled with the new concerns around safety has begun to redefine the industry and refocus these relationships towards authenticity and loyalty. The role of the advisor has become ever more elevated and is fundamental to the way people buy and sell travel. Working closer than ever with their clients, advisors are the translators of this new language, increasing the need for constant communication between travel advisors and their partnered travel brands.
When ILTM reached out to various travel advisors about this topic, it was evident that their role within the luxury travel industry had already adapted and that the expectations from both clients and brands had shifted significantly in the wake of the pandemic.
Travel Advisors Build Essential Confidence About Safety
Unsurprisingly, one of the clearest changes was the new language of safety. While many HNW individuals are clearly ready to travel (64% of agents we spoke to have received bookings since the start of the COVID-19 crisis as outlined in our recent Buyer Survey) it is not without a need for reassurance:
“There seems to be a tendency towards familiar resorts and destinations with clients wanting to stay within their ‘comfort zone’. Clients generally seem confident that the high-end resorts and destinations will be complying to new health and safety regulations so this has not been an issue for new enquiries” – Melissa Roston of Colletts Travel
The need for staying within comfort zones as well as leaning towards the familiar is, of course, all symptomatic of a need for reassurance and was a clear trend within our Buyer Survey. For example, 39% of those clients willing to travel were taking domestic flights only. This concern with safety came up again and again in the various conversations we had with advisors:
“People want to travel, they want a holiday, but they want to do it in a safe and comfortable way that makes them feel secure.”– Andrew Steinberg of Ovation Travel
“Since the beginning of May, our high net worth customers have been increasingly travelling regionally, making their choices by brand and location – and not price.” – James Liao of HelmsBriscoe
This heightened need for safety is a new angle for travel advisors but as has always been the case, it’s their business to be the authority on all things that interest and concern their clients. Now, in an era of high anxiety, luxury travellers are leaning on travel advisors heavily as voices of authority when it comes to travelling safely:
“It is a new language for all of us to learn and definitely a new and definite addition for the trip planning process with clients. While it may seem overwhelming, Advisors will get used to this. What we are doing at TTI is making ‘Safeguarding the Traveller Journey’ a topic at our weekly town hall meetings.” – Lucy Vieira of TTI Travel
Moreover, brands are looking to advisors to help push their new protocols and assist in rebuilding customer confidence, amplifying their messages about reopening and safety. The media too, recognising the key role advisors play, are also sourcing their stories off the back of conversations with agents, considering them direct sources for how both brands and their clients feel about the current situation.
Travel Advisors Offer a Genuine Personal Touch
While agents have always been a key source of information and well utilised when it comes to creating travel itinerates for many, there are, of course, alternative options available to travellers like online booking systems. Booking online and through various sites without any human interaction needed has continuously been touted as convenient and hassle-free, but it becomes clear, especially in times like these, that nothing can beat the reassurance of an authentic interaction with an adviser. It’s also clear that in times of crisis, trust becomes a core commodity that clients look for, returning to or maintaining those connections they trust in rather than looking elsewhere:
“Our clients have been amazing and in fact, a positive from this whole situation is a growing realisation that booking through a reputable agent is much more reassuring than an online booking engine – the personal connection really does matter. There is a lot of positive social media out there supporting travel agents and planners too.”- Debbie Collins of Spencer Travel
“Our clients want to travel and our aim is to inspire them with the confidence they need to explore the world with us again when borders safely open. We are constantly updating them about the incredible efforts of our partners to safeguard their future journeys in luxury.” – Lucy Vieira of TTI Travel
Put simply, computers can’t ease our fears the way a person can and nor can they generate trust the way a travel advisor can. Right now, travel seems rife with questions from uncertain clients and anxious brands trying to navigate this new terrain. Supporting both are advisors and the power of their role in this way has never been so starkly illustrated as during this pandemic.
Travel Advisors Are the Prime Source of Travel Trends
With years of forging long-lasting relationships with HNW clients under their belts, travel agents are often the direct source of insight for the media wanting to report on the changing trends of the luxury travel market. By keeping in constant contact with their HNW travellers throughout the pandemic, agents are perfectly placed to provide the media with up-to-the-minute data on what clients are concerned about or looking for next.
Travel Advisors Appreciate the Importance of Family
As we all know only too well, this period of restriction has separated families, sometimes for months, and so when restrictions began to ease slightly it’s little wonder that family travel was top of the agenda. In fact, we discovered from our Buyer Survey that 55% of trips booked were family holidays, many of which were doubtlessly reuniting many people after unprecedented periods of isolation. With their personalised knowledge and connections, travel advisors are primed to meet these needs and make these important family holidays memorable for all the right reasons:
“At the end of May we started receiving a few requests like a honeymoon to Dubai and Seychelles, New Year’s trips to ski in Vail, a family trip to India for Easter week 2021, etc. I think this is very positive, the clients are just waiting for the COVID crisis to be controlled so they can start planning their trips.” – Maria Elena Gamboa Vazquez of DG Luxury Essential
With their ears to the ground throughout this crisis and a wealth of knowledge at their disposal, travel advisors can provide clients with family holidays that make up for the long periods of separation.
Travel Advisors Provide the Support Hoteliers Need Right Now
With the pandemic still very much at the forefront, it’s no surprise that brands are suffering. Whether it’s travel restrictions to general uncertainty, being able to continue in the current climate is proving a challenge. Many hotels and experiences are finally reopening all over the world, but are struggling against a backdrop of indecision that stems not only from safety concerns but logistics too:
“My luxury travellers are emailing me constantly in regards to what is open and what is safe – they are keen to go where and when they can as soon as possible. Also, I think my position as a travel consultant will be that more pertinent as luxury travel re-builds, trusting in our relationships with our travel colleagues and hoteliers for suppliers” – Brittney Magner of Royal Travel & Tours
“At this stage communication is key. We have to be informed about our suppliers and the innumerous changes that they are going through. New protocols and opening dates also need to be aligned with not only the Country protocols, but with that of the Government, City, and finally County protocols!” – Felipe Soubhia of PHD Travel
The understandable uncertainty about what is open, where it’s open and what the protocols are, have all become very much part of the new language of luxury advisors. Not only is this good news for travellers seeking to venture back to new locations, but also for hoteliers who are desperate to get their businesses back up and running. Travel agents everywhere recognise that the key elements stopping people from travelling currently are all in some way linked back to uncertainty and have become essential when bridging this communication gap between brands and HNW travellers.
Travel Advisors Have Become Experts Of Domestic Travel
Prior to the pandemic, many travel agents were masters of pushing locations beyond their own shores, yet since the crisis began many have had to switch tactics with incredible speed. With the desire to travel wrestling with the anxiety of straying too far from home, domestic travel was bound to increase as was touched upon in a recent article by Anthony Goldman:
“The irony is that our travel advisors need to become quick experts in selling domestic and regional travel. Fast. We are great sellers of Europe, Asia and the Americas. We have never been super-sellers of our own region. We are better at selling Sicily than Sydney. Better at selling Madrid than Melbourne.” – Anthony Goldman of the Goldman Group
This quick turnaround has gone a long way towards keeping the industry afloat during the crisis and will perhaps see continued demand for this type of travel post-COVID-19.
Travel Advisors Can Provide Clients With The Flexibility They Now Need
The reality at the heart of travel currently is that many people are ready to travel again but they are at a loss as to where to begin. With so much change in such a short time, clients are wrestling with not only uncertainties about how safe it is to travel but where exactly they can go and how to get there. This level of flexibility is something an online system can’t manage and even brands themselves can only offer so much advice, but for an agent, this is their bread and butter:
“We’ve also noted how flexible our clients are: they just want to get away but don’t know how, where to go, what the local regulations are, etc. and come to me with extremely open-ended requests…The process from initial inquiry to booking is now much lengthier but it’s great to see bookings bouncing back.” – Elyssa Roberts of Marchay
“The flexibility of the flights makes it easier to know that they have two years to use the tickets if things do not improve. Other clients include those looking for a multi-generational trip to Cancun (very flexible on dates) and also 40 people travelling to Puerto Vallarta in September – flexibility is the name of the game in luxury travel at the moment.” – George Carrancho of First in Service
This innate ability to work with clients who have limited perimeters has always given advisors an edge over other travel organisational systems, and during a time when clients can be nothing but flexible it is a trait that is making them invaluable to clients. Planning is what agents do best and even when options and choices can change day-to-day, travel advisors are armed with a knowledge-base that allows them to adapt and overcome for the benefit of both brands and clients.
Travel Advisors Have Been Preparing for the Future
Despite the sudden halt to travel earlier in the year and the slow return now, travel advisors have continued to network and increase their connections. This activity during the lull of the industry allows for a quicker recovery and stronger businesses once travellers are fully committed to taking trips once more:
“I have continued to build my network of connections with luxury suppliers and properties as it is these relationships that are so important to my business and hence why ILTM is so important to me. I will be back strong in 2021.” – Mary Krueger of Travel Leaders
This continued networking has all been working towards the future, one that advisors know better than anyone will include a return to travel and with plans put in place now, the recovery will be all the smoother for it. In fact, when we asked travel advisors about their estimations on the recovery time of the travel industry as part of our research over 50% expected a full recovery within a year.
Beyond simple future-proofing of businesses, however, is the realisation that this is a key time to discover new brands and new experiences for clients in what will be the changed landscape of luxury travel. This ever-watchful eye on the industry as a whole has always been what has made travel advisors so key to all involved – not just clients looking for new experiences – but brands eager to keep ahead of the changing needs and wants of their customers too.
The Future Is Personal
“A disproportionate number of Brownell’s new travel inquiries have come from consumers who have never used a travel advisor before. Travellers are waking up to the fact that they need a resource and an advocate to reach out to when, not if, requirements change.”- Haisley Smith of Brownell Travel
It’s never been so clear that travel advisors are as much the glue as they are the guides of the travel industry. Not only are they the experts on their destinations and brands, but they are a key link in the chain of communication between clients, the media and brands too. Tasked with generating confidence and rebuilding the ways and means of travelling, it’s no doubt at the moment that all parties involved are deeply thankful for the travel advisors they work with.
With that in mind, we at ILTM are working hard to put everything in place for a safe return to Cannes in 2020 to celebrate our resilient industry 2020.