Waves of infections, changing protocols and postponed flights are just a handful of realities people face when traveling during the pandemic. Even during “normal” times, travel isn’t always straightforward, and with a plethora of moving parts, every vacation comes with risk. But those risks have multiplied with Covid, and travel planning has become more complicated.
Enter the travel agent or, as it is more often called nowadays, the travel counselor. They’re organizers, destination experts and a 24-hour concierge who can tailor a trip, reschedule, reschedule, and even prevent a memorable vacation from falling apart.
“Whether it’s a flight cancellation, problems in a hotel or an unexpected illness, a travel professional can quickly step in and assess the situation, then overcome all obstacles to find a solution,” explains David Harris, CEO of Ensemble, headquartered in North America. Travel Group and previously owner of a second generation travel agency. “It has never been more evident than during the pandemic.”
While travel portals such as Tripadvisor, Booking.com and Expedia Group have exploded over the past decade – with many people taking the initiative to plan their own vacations – websites and apps cannot replace one. individual offering personalized advice or organizing a tailor-made experience. . And the jetsetters agree. In 2021 in particular, travel agencies are booming.
“After going through the most brutal year in more than 20 years since I started the business, I have seen a staggering rebound in the past six months,” said Casey Halloran, Co-Founder and CEO of Costa Rican Luxury Vacations, a company designing high-end tailor-made trips to Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua. “Now that travel has new barriers, ever-changing rules and mild anxiety, agents are able to add even more value to travelers. ”
Halloran explains that specifically for pandemic travel, advisers help gather destination Covid statistics, information on entry and exit requirements and local regulations, not to mention protocols at hotels, advice on travel insurance and contingency plans for worst-case scenarios.
“As all of these factors change, it’s a great agent’s job to be constantly in the know, to filter out the noise and to keep the customer informed,” he adds. A reputable travel agent should help their customers “understand the risks, mitigate them as best we can, and help them feel comfortable to travel responsibly again.”
An expanding role
Travel agencies are far from new. UK-based Cox & Kings opened as the first travel agency in 1758, followed by the Abreu agency in Porto, Portugal, in 1840. Meanwhile, Thomas Cook of London made its debut. appearance a year later and Brownell Travel was launched in the United States in 1887. Beyond the pioneers, the role of the travel counselor has undeniably expanded in recent decades.
“Twenty years ago, travel agents were ‘order takers’ who mainly booked what customers told them,” says Brian Tan, CEO and co-founder of Zicasso, a luxury travel company in Mountain View. , California, which connects travelers with top travel advisors. “Today’s successful travel agents have in-depth knowledge of a destination and a Rolodex of local contacts and can personalize travel experiences. travel based on a client’s particular interests and needs – we call them “travel specialists”.
In an era of a global health crisis, people who have never worked with travel counselors are turning to the pros for trip planning and personalized itineraries. According to Tan, Zicasso has seen increased demand as a result of Covid for travel experts and the services they provide.
Likewise, Virtuoso, one of the world’s leading travel consortia with more than 1,200 agencies in more than 50 countries, has seen a 50% increase in the number of consumers looking to hire travel counselors through its network since January. . Meanwhile, other numbers are also on the rise. Third quarter bookings are up from the first two quarters of 2021, and customers are purchasing domestic and international travel through travel agents. For overseas travel in particular, advisers offer peace of mind and an increased level of security.
“In today’s travel environment, travelers are more concerned about their safety than ever before when traveling overseas,” says Andrew Williams, Houston-based travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, a member of Virtuoso. “Avoiding the spread of the pandemic, evolving environmental risks, escalating crime and other general tensions have added many complications to navigating the travel landscape. Now travelers want more support from someone they can trust in a world where things are more complex. “
Beyond the added security and convenience that comes with hiring a travel agent, there are other benefits as well. “We often have access to exclusive benefits or experiences through our global networks of suppliers and friends,” says Williams.
Navigate a new normal
With vaccinations going on, travel as an industry is booming, which is another reason travel agents are in high demand. Margot Kong, a San Francisco-based luxury travel curator with Travel Experts, a network of independent travel advisors and a subsidiary of Virtuoso, says she thinks there has been an increase recently because so much of the world hasn’t fully reopened, or they’ve opened with restrictions.
“You now have a lot more people competing for fewer hotel rooms, fewer tour guides and fewer airplane seats,” Kong said. As a result, vacation planning is not as easy as it used to be, and planning a vacation can take three times as long as people scour the internet and browse dozens of flight, hotel and tour options. . Then there is the possibility of travel disruptions, which are more common these days.
“Asking a travel counselor to take on this burden is very appealing to a lot of people,” she adds. “If things go wrong and a country closes, a hotel closes, or a trip or cruise needs to be canceled, the travel advisor is better equipped to help secure that refund or future travel credit,” by advocating on behalf of the client. ”