Early reports show that domestic travel bookings are beginning to trickle in for a number of Australian and New Zealand agents, though sadly for many, dealing with credits and refunds are still the bulk (and bane) of daily tasks.
In a survey* hosted by Karryon this week on their closed ‘Together In Travel’ Facebook Group, 51% of agents said they were starting to see domestic travel bookings come in, while 20% said they were still only seeing minimal enquiry.
23% of agents said they weren’t seeing any domestic bookings at all and 6% said “absolutely” that bookings were happening for them.
Agent Debbie Eyers said: “Have done four domestic bookings this week and am so excited to be starting to book again.” Asked about where the bookings had come from Ms Eyers said: “One was a phone enquiry, one was a walk-in and two were existing clients.”
On the downside though, agent Diana Leavis said “Lots of questions about when we might be able to travel but no bookings,” with another agent saying that “no one will commit yet though as they can’t purchase travel insurance. I have a couple of large NT and Broome bookings but they need coverage.”
What’s holding more bookings back?
Seemingly, there are numerous factors at play right now as to why agents may not be getting more domestic bookings, with everything from state and territory borders remaining closed – giving travellers no certainty or incentive to book yet to the competitiveness of price, lack of insurance and having minimal commissionable products or deals to sell.
There is also the viable perception out there that travel agents are for booking international trips only.
Yesterday, Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said in a speech to the Australian Press Club that international borders are “likely to remain closed until 2021.” as reported by the ABC.
Irrespective of whether that guesstimation will end up being fact or not, Mr Birmingham’s headline hitting news wasn’t particularly helpful for the travel industry nor travellers considering international forward bookings.
The Trans-Tasman bubble was noted by Mr Birmingham as still not confirmed, with state and territory borders remaining closed a factor to holding a confirmed timeframe up.
Words, as always, are powerful as a consequence today, we’ve been informed of South Pacific bookings that were locked in for October already being cancelled.
Mr Birmingham had also said that Australians should “feel an almost patriotic duty” to holiday here this year to support local communities, jobs and the economy.
The big challenge is that booking with a travel agent as part of supporting the local community has not been to date part of that same narrative or call to action from the top.
Sadly, some state tourism bodies have even promoted, perhaps naively, booking online with international online travel companies such as Trip Advisor or Airbnb rather than also supporting the very individuals and small businesses they represent in their local communities.
Note to those at the top – Agents need help with a call to action – now.
“Support your community. Book with your local travel agent.”
What can agents do to change this?
Education would be the first and obvious answer with regards to meeting every level of the challenge ahead.
If the value and reasons for using a travel agent for domestic and international bookings still aren’t clear or resonating loudly with the general public, then that needs to change – urgently.
Agents being supported out of the concern and care from the impact of COVID-19 is one welcome aspect, but having an expert domestic service offering and competitive deals to boot will make up the triple whammy needed to convince travellers why they should book their domestic travel with an agent.
Expert training too should naturally be part of the education program for agents. All of the individual states and territories offer their own training programs where agents can brush up on the latest products and destination updates.
Many state and regional tourism boards have free tools, images and video assets agents can use to get the word out there via social media, email etc.
Tourism Australia’s recently revamped ‘Aussie Specialist Program’ for example is a great place to start to refresh agents’ skills.
As an agent, Karen Spencer said in our survey in response to whether she was seeing any domestic bookings: “No and am worried people will book online thinking it’s just domestic and ‘cheaper and easy.’
Time to re-educate travellers to the unbeatable value and service agents can offer? There’s not a minute to lose.
Got ideas to share? What do you think? Email us at [email protected] with your thoughts.
*The Survey included almost 300 Australian and New Zealand agents
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