Travel Advisor Ann-Catherine Jones from Travel Associates has penned an inspiring article about what she calls ‘The next Golden Age of Travel’; a time that will allow trusted travel advisors, and their smart travellers, to shine.
Pre March 2020, anyone who worked as a frontline travel advisor knew we were “the hottest thing in travel who never went away” (one of Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch’s very quotable lines) but were often left justifying what we do and even our existence.
“How are you even in business? Hasn’t the internet taken away all of your clients? I can just book ‘online’; why would I use an agent?” were often the tedious questions asked of us at dinner parties by our Uber drivers and friends who didn’t seem to get what we did for a living.
In a purchase economy where discounting was king, the rise of mass-market travel retailers, coupled with the rise of low-cost airlines, saw travel being accessible to millions more travellers and a travel market that had expanded wildly.
This also brought about an almost slavish devotion to pricing being the driver of the travel consumer, especially pricing ‘on the Internet’. If it was ‘on the Internet’, if it was the cheapest, it was the perfect airline/hotel/holiday for consumers.
People had been trained to bring what they had found “on the Internet” into a retail agency (usually because they didn’t want to put their cash onto a random website), and in doing so, they expected to be given a discount.
The travel agent would reward them for gifting them the business by clipping their commission.
This was how travel was always consumed, or so everyone thought.
Working adjacent to this business model were travel professionals who developed equally successful businesses entirely differently.
Their business models were not dictated by algorithms but based on the cornerstones of service, connection, and expertise.
By slowing things down and taking the time to learn their craft, they connected intimately with their airline, touring, hotel and cruise suppliers.
This way, they could ensure that every client benefited from the expertise and the unique products and value adds they brought to every travel arrangement. Their travellers loved it.
Almost all of these businesses grew organically as word-of-mouth referrals spread. In the pre-pandemic world, this part of the travel ecosystem quickly became one of the most prominent players in the market.
Savvy, well-travelled consumers wanted a trusted travel advisor on speed dial, and they had been educated to realise that discounted pricing was not always reflective of value.
When the pandemic took hold globally in April 2020, and the entire travel ecosystem came to a halt, it was these trusted travel advisors who came into their own.
Initially mobilising to contact all their travellers and bring them home safely before borders shut, they set about accessing priority airline refunds, explaining to suppliers that had a ‘credit only’ policy why it was in theirs and their traveller’s interests to refund the client instead and being a reassuring and professional presence throughout this time.
Many pivoted towards domestic travel experts securing the little extras from their partner hoteliers to ensure that even a staycation was an event.
Others used their deep airfare knowledge and connections to secure safe passage home for thousands of stranded Australians during the strangest of times when international borders were closed.
They knew what airlines would bring passengers home and explained why offshore online travel companies were offering routes and fares that didn’t exist.
Offering reassurance and, yet again, expertise. Our stranded ex-pat community was a human issue. Human connections between these advisors and their airline contacts resolved the problem for many, bringing thousands of Australians home.
Many travel businesses have fallen by the wayside over the past 20 months, but those that have made it through are businesses that had planted their flag on the other side.
They worked through the lean months and the hard months by upskilling, reconnecting, and reassuring their clients who were desperate to get moving again.
Their business model was successful pre-pandemic, but they are now in pole position to be the hottest commodity in travel as people nervously survey this post lockdown travel world.
A new generation of travellers engages the services of trusted travel professionals, sometimes for the first time, as they realise the value of this deep knowledge and connection.
They enjoy collaboration, are open to a new way of arranging their travel business and are delighted with how engaging the services of their trusted travel advisor is.
This new generation knows how their travel advisors can make a difference in every aspect of their journey.
It truly is time for the trusted travel advisor to shine
Many consumers are now becoming more thoughtful about where they spend their precious leisure budget.
No longer wanting to ‘DIY’ their travel via travel apps based offshore, they understand that by booking local, they are supporting outstanding businesses, where they are a VIP and not just one part of a numbers game to make a little saving.
As we enter what I call “The next Golden Age of Travel”, it will be the smart travellers who ask around and get a recommendation as to who is the best of the best in travel.
They will be the travellers who take the plunge and understand that by engaging with and paying a professional Travel Advisor to collaborate with them on their travel plans.
They know, by doing this, they will not only have an ally by their side if any unforeseen disruptions happen and someone to translate the complex travel requirements imposed globally at this moment, but someone with the connections to help them get back to living their best travel lives.
We are the absolute experts in travel, and we cannot wait to hear from you.
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