In May 2020, back when COVID-19 was just getting started, cnbc.com published a report around how travel will look after the pandemic finally recedes. Among the predictions? An increase in the use of private travel experts.
In fact, while the rise of Internet booking engines and online travel agencies during the mid-90s hit the traditional travel agent industry hard, they believe that the trouble many travellers have had to endure getting self-booked plans refunded or rescheduled amid the pandemic may actually ‘fuel a renaissance in the fortunes of agents’ as travellers look for specialised advice and up-to-the-minute information.
Anne Scully, a certified travel counsellor and president of McCabe World Travel, reflected on the early days of the COVID-induced chaos, saying: “If anyone booked without a travel advisor during this period, they learned that they should have. Trying to even call the airlines — because the phones were just so jam-packed — could take 16 hours, could take two to three days.”
According to Scully, it’s not just consumers who are now recognising the importance of travel experts. “Our partners, our hotel partners, our cruise partners, our airline partners, our partners on land, they all know moving ahead, how valuable that travel advisor will be to their future growth,” said Scully.
Erika Richter, Communications Director of The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) agrees:
“The role of the travel advisor has evolved so much, and we are not merely transactional agents anymore. We believe strongly that the future will have a heavy emphasis on the travel advisor facilitating the future of travel.”
There is no doubt that the role of the travel advisor, or travel expert, has changed. According to Richter, just as someone consults with their financial advisor to reassess and make short-term and long-term adjustments to their financial portfolio, savvy travellers will seek advice and guidance around their travel needs and goals.
Of course, this immediately obvious in the corporate travel space, where travel managers are focussing on travel budgets and maximising return on investment – while safeguarding the health and wellbeing of their team.
But it’s equally important for inbound and outbound leisure travel, VFR, business travel and MICE.
According to Forbes, a post-pandemic travel advisor has a number of roles. They will:
- Prepare you for the travel experience
- Understand where you’re going
- Screen every travel company
- Hold your hand
- Help you navigate the rules of travel
- Be available to you 24/7
- Leverage insider contacts to help you have a smoother trip
- Go the extra mile to get you home
- Solve your problems
- Help you secure a no-hassle refund if necessary
And they’re not wrong. We can already see that travel experts are expected to be miracle-workers, therapists and trusted advisors – with up-to-the-minute information at their fingertips and the patience of a saint.
For Forbes, a travel advisor is, in fact, “one of the best tools that a traveller can use in a post-pandemic time.” Put simply, as the world reopens, a well-connected travel advisor can save the average do-it-yourself traveller not only money, but time.
But for Kim Gahm, an agent with US-based Travel and Transport, peace of mind is the biggest thing travel experts can offer their clients: “We are constantly monitoring our clients’ trips and reaching out to them with updates. We have resources and contacts that you won’t find when booking your vacation online, not to mention the fact that our clients can reach us via phone or email.”
At the moment the travel landscape is filled with unease, uncertainty and complexity. The travel expert’s role is to make sense of it all – providing clear, concise information; trusted advice; and yes, a shoulder to cry on. Far from simply a ‘transactional partner’, today’s agents are experts, sounding-boards, fonts of knowledge and the epitome of grace under fire.