Travel agents are facing extraordinary challenges as they navigate a path to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – a high number of cancelled bookings, lost revenue, concerns over business sustainability, and how to encourage travel-weary clients to think ahead and plan future travel, to name a few.
Experts say consumers will travel again, but no estimated timeframe is guaranteed. As the travel industry tries to rebound, what are the key things travel agents need in order to return to growth?
Incentive Programs To Boost Cash Flow
Promotional incentives move the needle. Higher commissions, bonus cash, and special consumer rates capture an agent’s attention because they are a proven, excellent way to earn additional revenue while delivering exceptional value to clients.
The partnerships agents choose afford access to different types of incentives and can significantly impact their bottom line as the travel industry rebounds from the effects of COVID-19. For example, new agents joining Expedia TAAP (Travel Agent Affiliate Program) enter at the “silver tier” (instead of the “standard tier”), which offers increased compensation and the opportunity to unlock special package prices (an average of 20% off) for their clients. Current active Expedia TAAP agents can take advantage of tailored incentives to bolster revenue. Offering refundable rates can become a key sales driver during these days of travel uncertainty; nearly 70% of lodging rates on Expedia TAAP are now refundable, providing added peace of mind when booking.
Support Delivers Strength
Marketing and customer service support has always been important to agents, but the pandemic has pushed this support to the forefront of priorities.
Agents need true collaborative partners on multiple levels. Assistance with customized marketing materials and client communications strategies help drive business. Extensive flexibility to update and change bookings with no/minimal penalties and the tools to smoothly facilitate all changes make it easier for agents to effectively sell travel. Multi-channel support is crucial for quickly resolving problems. Phone support alone is inconvenient for agents; self-service tools such as virtual agent support can decrease call propensity and drive faster issue resolution.
Knowledge Of Hygiene Protocols
In the time of COVID-19, hygiene protocols are understandably top-of-mind.
It’s essential for travel agents to understand a destination’s and property’s health and safety procedures since this knowledge cultivates customer trust and loyalty, plus allows agents to book with confidence that travelers’ safety needs will be met. Travel businesses like Expedia are working closely with hotels to display ‘traveler safety’ features in the booking path in nearly 70% of properties, including enhanced sanitization, contactless check-in/check-out, availability of masks/gloves, and information on room vacancy periods between stays.
Agents can further build traveler confidence by choosing travel partners who have prioritized and invested in guest safety and cleanliness. For example, chain hotels like Marriott have launched their “Commitment to Clean” program focused on implementing across their property portfolio scientifically recommended practices that further elevate standards for cleanliness and hygiene. Since Expedia Partner Solutions is the preferred global distributor for Marriott’s B2B rates, agents booking on Expedia TAAP have access to higher margin B2B rates from Marriott, while also benefiting from safety standards implemented by these businesses.
Meaningful Customer Engagement
Amid so much uncertainty, one truth is that travel habits will change significantly. Different segments of travelers will show widely varied purchasing behaviors. And, the nature of the crisis, of restrictions on travel, movement and businesses, of economic conditions, and many other factors will amplify many of these differences in the foreseeable future. What this means for agents is that profiling would-be clients is an essential exercise as is staying abreast of consumer’s ever-evolving habits.
This emphasis requires deeper levels of creativity when connecting with existing and potential clients. Consider offering diverse types of travel experiences customized to their interests and a COVID-19 world – possibly closer to home for now or looking at the large availability of vacation rental properties, which provide privacy without sacrificing the quality of the guest experience.
Enhanced Skills & Presence
Enhancing an agent’s value proposition has taken on new meaning during these challenging times. This is a good opportunity for travel agents to invest in growth and development by strengthening destination and hotel knowledge, engaging in specialist courses, examining affiliations, and possibly targeting a new niche.
What else should agents consider? Ensure web and social media presences are engaging. Introduce a structure for charging service fees. Explore opportunities with local businesses. Promote domestic travel through flash sales encouraging weekend and beach getaways within driving distance. Invest in low-cost marketing channels, like digital channels, to maximize the margin on all bookings. Leverage one’s network of fellow agents for support, collaborations and think tanks to share ideas. The goal is to maintain the health and strength of an agent’s business in order to be prepared for when travel rebounds because clients will travel again.