Ron Lonsdale hasn’t been around for the entire 102-year history of Collette – a century that has seen its share of wars, terrorism, financial meltdowns, and general pestilence – but the 26-year veteran and VP Canada for the Rhode Island-based tour company says COVID is the worst disrupter to the travel industry that he has seen.
“The past six months have been pretty difficult for everybody in our industry. COVID has been pretty unprecedented and hit us the hardest,” he told Travel Industry Today via Zoom from his Streetsville/ Mississauga, Ont. office, a place he currently works from two or three times a week.
But Lonsdale is quick to add that Collette is “fiscally responsible, very strong and has adequate reserves to ride this pandemic out.”
However, he admits, “I feel bad for the agent community.”
To that end, Collette has launched an advanced commission program that will see the tour company pay a portion of the full commission (up to $200 per transaction based on the type of booking) upon deposit, and more importantly, not ask for it back if the client cancels.
“We understand that this pandemic has been very difficult and challenging for (agents) and with this ‘commission pipeline,’ we wanted to help the agents rebuild their business and give them a cash flow,” Lonsdale says. “We understand how hard they work.”
Collette also wants clients to feel confident and Lonsdale notes that deposits are fully refundable within 30 days of booking and that the company’s “change for any reason” cancellation travel protection also covers COVID conditions.
He adds that Collette has already issued more than $100 million in refunds.
Once on tour, the tour operator has initiated a series of health and safety protocols including reduced group numbers (50% capacity), pre-travel screenings, enhanced training for tour directors, mask-wearing and physical distancing, sanitized coaches, and much more. “We have to watch every logistic on tours,” he says.
While he admits to being mindful of representing the cautious Canadian market, he notes that Collette is a global company and has been running some tours south of the border since July 1 with several itineraries to places like the South Dakota badlands and national parks already operating in August and September.
As for his Canadian constituents, Lonsdale says most bookings are for May 2021 and onwards.
But, importantly, there are positive signs of a turnaround, he says, pointing to the tour operator seeing more new business than re-bookings in the past few weeks. Hot tickets have been familiar ones: Italy, Ireland, Iceland… but robust website searches are varied, including Atlantic Canada, Africa, even Japan, he says.
Lonsdale adds that the company is “cautiously optimistic” that the first quarter of 2021 will see a turnaround (including international tours out of the US), but that he’s a realist and expects that in Canada Spring is more likely.
Nevertheless, some tours now are a small, positive start and that American travellers are setting the tone. “Nobody likes to be first, but there’s a whole heck of a lot of people who like to be second,” he says.
And there are plenty who do want to travel, even now, he acknowledges, though they are hampered by limitations such as border closures and quarantine protocols.
When travel does resume in a fashion approximating normal, Lonsdale says he expects groups (including clients travelling in their own small bubbles) to be key; less congested activities (like African safaris) to gain prominence; plus an increase in both domestic and shoulder-season travel.
In the meantime, Lonsdale promises that Collette will continue supporting agents and will be “easy to work with.”
“Through crisis comes opportunity,” he says, intimating that Collette has plenty of plans for 2021, including rolling out private touring.
And travel is “resilient” and will return, the Canadian VP assures. After all, he says, “Travel is not what we do. It’s who we are. Travel is the true educator – it’s one of the few things you can actually buy in which you enrich your life.”
Source: Travel Industry Today
TRAVEL IS WHO WE ARE: It’s not what we do