While domestic U.S. travel and trips close to home have been the first to emerge in a COVID-19 world, consumers will travel internationally again, and travel agents need to be prepared for that return with inspiring travel ideas and extensive knowledge on what global travel will look like.
More than ever before, consumers are looking to travel agents for guidance, creating an excellent opportunity for agents to enhance their client relationships and drive customer loyalty by being a well-informed, reliable resource for enriching experiences that can be done safely. Below are five things agents should be considering as they return to booking international travel.
#1 – What’s the arrival process like?
Saying international airports are busy is an understatement. Between the volume of people and countless interactions taking place, many international airports have implemented new arrival procedures to maximize health and safety.
Travelers should expect temperature checks, social distancing measures, mask requirements, hand-washing stations, and contactless interactions. Enhanced hygiene protocols include protective barriers to reduce contact between officers and passengers, kiosks for scanning of passports upon entry, luggage scanners in the customs hall, and safety barriers where inspection of luggage is required.
It’s crucial for agents to be aware of arrival requirements for their clients. For example, visitors to Belize must download the Belize Health App (available for Apple and Android devices) and upload mandatory information within 72 hours of their arrival in the country. Proof of a negative PCR test is required, and then guests can enter the fast track lane at the airport (visitors with no PCR test results must get tested at the airport at a cost of USD$50 per person). Visitors who test positive must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days at their own expense.
#2 – How are clients being kept safe in a destination?
Keeping guests safe and healthy while in a destination is a collective effort amongst all tourism entities.
Protocols such as masks, staying six feet apart, temperature checks, signage about washing hands, and hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations have become commonplace, but agents want to know more. Contactless interactions (like online check-in/check-out at hotels), contactless payment systems and automated ordering/booking systems, elevated cleaning and increased sanitization of public spaces and high-touch services, capacity restrictions for all tourism sites, and smaller tour groups for a more intimate and safe experience are just some of the additional measures to be found in destinations around the globe.
Oversight and accountability is essential to help ensure safety measures are properly implemented. In Belize, for example, tourists can move about freely, but it’s recommended they remain within the Tourism Safe Corridor, which features Gold Standard certified hotels, restaurants, ground tour operators, car rentals and taxis, tourism sites and attractions, and gift shops. These Gold Standard certified entities have all undertaken rigorous training, implemented enhanced health and safety measures, and have a COVID-19 response plan in place. Consumers can look for the Gold Standard certificate or safety seal.
#3 – Can travelers enjoy the destination?
While new protocols have been implemented to ensure the highest levels of cleanliness and safety, agents and travelers can remain confident that what makes an international destination extraordinary continues to make it extraordinary.
Guest can enjoy tropical beaches, exceptional cuisine, rich history, intriguing culture, adventure activities from scuba diving below the surface to climbing mountain peaks that pierce the sky, and so much more that characterize a particular destination. With safety measures in place, international travel remains a distinctive way to celebrate family occasions, special milestones, and a way to feel “normal” again.
#4 – What happens if a traveler exhibits symptoms or becomes ill?
Planning is a priority. Having hygiene measures in place is essential, but destinations must also have procedures for quarantining, efficient and effective testing, and contact tracing – and travelers should be aware of the protocols before departure.
If visitors start to exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms, they must immediately notify their hotel’s front desk. The hotel will then implement their COVID-19 response plan. Should a visitor develop symptoms and test positive for the virus while in an international country, they will be required to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days at their expense. It is highly recommended that agents talk to their clients about obtaining travel insurance prior to departure in the event that they become sick while away.
#5 – Are a destination’s communication efforts transparent?
Transparency has always been essential, but truth in hygiene and safety measures is more important than ever before. Destinations that share honest updates tend to more quickly earn agents’ and consumers’ trust. Look at a destination’s frequency of communication, how forthright they are about any COVID-19 cases, their responsiveness to agent queries, and how safety plans are conveyed to agents.
International travel will eventually resume, but a destination’s efforts in instituting stringent hygiene protocols and well-conceived response and communications plans will undoubtedly drive booking confidence.