With no clear timeline as to when the pandemic will end, travel advisors must assess when to broach the subject of travel credits for clients who chose to postpone rather than their cancel vacations.
Many travel advisors believe that time is now. “We need to be staying in touch with our clients who may be concerned about their travel credits,” said Marcy Zyonse of Live the Dream Travel, a Travel Experts affiliate. “If you haven’t pulled the trigger yet – this is a great time to do so. We need to be proactive and high touch.”
Which doesn’t mean pressuring clients to capitalize immediately on vacation credits but rather assess “their risk tolerance and how soon they’re willing to jump,” she said. “It’s important to find out where they are coming from in terms of a decision-making standpoint.”
Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Services, a Travel Experts affiliate, said she plans to reevaluate her clients’ outstanding travel credits during the next 30 days to determine how to counsel them on what their next steps should be.
On the cruise front, “a big concern is the financial viability of each cruise line as we continue the cancellation periods into 2021,” she said. “For this reason, I will be suggesting they use their credit for a future cruise to insure the trip against financial default. These times are getting even more tricky to navigate – and our risk as travel advisors is increasing.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 70 percent of Lukovic’s clients rebooked their trips for either the fall or 2021. “I’ve had some clients rebook the same trip multiple times as the situation unfolded,” Lukovic said. “At this point, around 50 percent of my 2021 bookings are canceling because of how unsure things look for international travel.”
At Churchill & Turen, 68 percent of the luxury agency’s cruise clients opted for future cruise credits, and 42 percent have booked future sailing in 2021-23, said the agency’s owner, Richard Turen.
Similarly, Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel, an affiliate of Signature Travel Network, noted that most of her cruise clients opted for cruise credits rather than refunds. “Most clients on tours took refunds when available and only took credits when that was all that was offered,” she said.
“My cruise clients are ready to get back out there but with no guidelines in place yet they are left hanging,” she said. “European lines are slowly getting started again in Europe as their COVID-19 protocols are in place, but the U.S. seems bogged down with getting protocols established and in effect.”
A considerable number of Schoeder’s customers hope to capitalize on travel credits for trips that were canceled this year. “Many of my clients are holding business class credits but are holding off right now to see when Europe reopens to U.S. visitors.,” she said.
Sarah Kline of Time for Travel said her clients found travel credits too lucrative to dismiss. “The travel credits deals were too good to pass up – 25 percent more than want you spent – free money is good,” she said, adding that “quite a few” clients have already redeemed credits for travel during the fourth quarter of this year, while other are waiting until 2021 since most credits are good until the end of next year
Meanwhile, assessing when to rebook clients’ air remains a sticky proposition. “Booking air is a little bit tricky, as many of the air purchases are paid in full at time of booking,” said Lukovic. “Even though the airlines are relaxing their change fees, many of my clients are hesitant to add to the amount of travel credits floating out there. Normally, I’d be advising my clients to book airfare now for spring and summer travel, but terms and pricing re a big unknown at the moment.
“With airfare, the routes seem to be ever-changing. Being in the Atlanta area, many of my clients are accustomed to flying nonstop to the destination. Many of my clients have been through the wringer with schedule change after schedule change, making their air schedules less desirable.”
Simply put, the old rules no longer apply. “The normal 11-months-out recommendation now comes with multiple caveats, including the likelihood that there will be schedule, connection and possibly equipment changes at a level never seen previously,” said Turen. “So now, we have shortened our window to five to six months prior to departure on many international routes.”
He added, “Airlines want to drop as many international routes as possible given current trends but, at the same time, they do not want to risk losing valuable landing slots if they do. It is a very delicate balancing act and we will want our clients to exercise caution and not book as early as they have in the past.”
With the pandemic continuing to cause uncertainty in travel plans, it should come as no surprise that many agents are more aggressively recommending that their clients arm themselves with travel insurance.
“I am just short of begging them to get insurance,” Kline said. “Even if it’s just future travel credit insurance. I am also encouraging cancel for any reason coverage.”
For her part, Schoeder is requiring that clients who decline insurance sign a waiver acknowledging that they declined it. “I am also making them fully aware of what circumstances are not covered in an insurance policy and requiring they acknowledge that also,” she said. “This year we found that insurance does not cover all –so agents and clients need to be aware of what is and what possibly might not be covered.”
In the end, advisors were in agreement that high-touch service is now more important than ever before. “We far prefer phone calls to e-mail,” said Turen. “This is not a time for primitive thumb-based communication. Agents who have lost their ‘human voice’ will be lost to an avalanche of direct solicitation to their clients.”
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