“How can we ever recover?” wonders Lorraine Simpson. Fortunately, the travel guru – educator, marketer, TV personality, motivational speaker, ex-travel agent – has a few ideas on how travel counsellors can survive and thrive through the pandemic. In fact, she got it down to a ‘T’ – and she’s happy to share.
But it won’t be easy, warned Simpson in her keynote address at the recent virtual ACTA Travel Industry Summit, acknowledging, “It’s hard to put any positive spin on this catastrophic position we find ourselves in right now. Our landscape has been flattened, and we’re basically all start-ups.
“This situation we’re in now, it’s a crisis… We could never have thought that we’d be in this situation. We have start again from scratch.”
But retail agents can survive, she assures. Citing some difficult personal situations in life that threatened her business, she says, “You don’t know how you’re going to do it (survive). But I did. We do. Yes, it was tough. I had to figure it out and how I was going to find customers, because no one was going to be knocking on my door asking, ‘Excuse me, do you have travel agent in your basement?’”
In 2021, finding customers will similarly be the goal of every agent when travel re-starts, she says, though she quickly adds the good news is that demand will return.
“For so many people, travel is a priority, be it for work, visiting friends or relatives or just for leisure. Travel is an integral part of people’s lives and for many is as big a part of returning to normal as being able to eat in a restaurant again… As soon as there is no immediate obstacle to taking that next trip, people will go,” she says.
Starting up in a post-pandemic world
Nevertheless, for agents, reclaiming that business will require serious “outside the box” thinking, and not simply going with what you know, she states. “These are unprecedented times, so your reinvention strategy has to involve something based on the times and the situation… You must research, refresh your knowledge, and yet still be prepared to change again as rules and protocols evolve…
“We must stay on top of it and you must be the expert that you are. Don’t hold to what you know already and refuse to evolve, or you will be left behind.”
Nor will simple hard work be sufficient.
“You may be inclined to just start marketing a little harder and selling more aggressively and telling people how much we need them to book travel right now. (But) your messaging is very important and the message you portray must be very sensitive to the situation you are in now, or you will lose your booking to someone who is.”
Simpson makes the following analogy: “Think of it like a magnet and the law of attraction. You must set yourself up as the expert in the new travel landscape and people will be naturally attracted to your knowledge. They will feel safer and secure booking with an expert – somebody who knows and has researched the current situation, and how it will have affected their travel plans.”
To do that, Simpson has a list of what she calls the ‘T’s, which she encourages agents to embrace:
Time – “This is a moment in time. You will either remember it with a feeling of dread, or thankfulness that you were able to muster up the strength necessary to fight through the fear and uncertainly. You have a choice right now. But time moves on; this is a moment, and it will pass, and how you react is up to you.”
Training – “Retraining is a very important part of your travel business rebound. It is imperative for you to learn everything you can about the new normal: protocols and safety measures at the airports, on the planes, the money that has been invested by airlines, hotels, tour operators and tour leaders, by the travel industry in general.
“Learn about the trending places that people are looking for, the most searched destinations. What are the off-the-beaten path destinations you can find? What are the different ways that clients are looking to travel? (Find out) what they looking for so that you can re-train yourself for when they are ready to go and travel again.
“Take all the free online training courses, retake the suppliers’ webinars, because what you thought you knew is all very different. And it will be different for awhile to come.”
Tell your story – “Telling your story makes you real to people who have previously booked online. All of those people have spent hours or days trying to speak to a real person to get help, to get their trip rebooked, or changed, or perhaps refunded. But you are an expert and you have the knowledge and connections they wished they had used in the first place.
“So, tell your story. Tell the media, post it on social media, basically anyone who will listen. Keep the points optimistic. Tell the story of your journey through this pandemic, your passion, how you got people home when they were stuck, how you are learning everything you can so that you are ready when travellers are ready to book travel again.”
But she emphasized and important point: “Talking about travel is keeping the dream alive, but don’t sell – not yet. Let them come to you, otherwise you will be seen as insensitive and actually you may be seen as irresponsible. But talking about what it will look like is like setting the scene of a play. It is your job to inspire the imagination, to create a desire, because you are the expert.”
Transform – “It is time to transform your business model to reflect what is going to work for you. Do you move home from a storefront? Do you change your strategy or move to a host agency, or a new host agency? I changed everything; I did the opposite of what everybody expected during a pandemic – I actually hired seven new people. Why? Because I feel that this is more of an opportunity than a terminal diagnosis.”
Travel – “The most important ‘T’ is to travel. This is why we’re in this business. I know money is tight and that you may see travel as a reward for your work, not as a marketing tool for your business. (But) right now, it’s essential. You should be leading by example. Show your clients what it looks like – report on every COVID test you take in order to travel, show every little step you take to ensure their travel safety.
“As long as you get the messaging right, your own travel experience can be your best marketing strategy you have right now. Even if it’s local, report on everything: show it, report it, tell the story of why you’re here – what it looks like, what it feels like, what it tastes like, what is safe about it, what has changed about it. Educate people that even though travel will be different, it will still be enjoyable.”
“Life,” Simpson concludes, “is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you respond to it.
“So now is not the time to sit back and cry,” she adds, pulling out a few more Ts. “Take action, transition and thrive!”
Source: Travel Industry Today
EVOLVE OR BE LEFT BEHIND: Starting up again in a post-pandemic world