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Agent Interview: Connie Rush – Insights During COVID-19 as a Travel Professional

Perspective and Lessons Learned through the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Travel Professional


An Interview by Andy Ogg, CTIE, Co-Owner – Travel Professional News


First off, thank you very much for the time today and joining our fantastic Travel Professional NEWS readers!


Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your Agency with our readers? Where are you located? How did you become a Travel Professional?

Today I own and operate Creative Getaways LLC, an Independent Agency in the Avoya Travel Network™. I am located in Perkasie, PA, and my agency specializes in family and multigenerational travel as well as cruises, all-inclusive vacations and escorted tours.


My love for travel and desire to see the world started as a teenager. As a Girl Scout in junior high I took my first international trip to Mexico and then after high school graduation went with the same group to Europe for two weeks. I have not stopped traveling since that trip. Even before it was my profession, travel planning came natural to me. I planned all my vacations and was happy to be the group leader when we invited family and friends to join us.


After working as a Disney Cast Member for 16 years, I got into travel planning fulltime. I needed to spend more time at home with my family and realized I was already giving free travel advice to Disney store customers. I went back to school for my Travel and Tourism degree and began selling travel.  Much of my sales expertise and approach to customer service comes from my Disney experience, where we were all about exceeding the guests’ expectations. I have adapted this guest-centric philosophy into every aspect of running my travel business.


How long have you been in the travel industry? How long have you been running your Agency? Do you work with a Host Agency? If so, which Host Agency?

I have been a travel professional for 15 years. I first entered the travel industry in July 2005 and affiliated my agency with the Avoya Travel Network in 2010 for the Avoya Live Leads™ program so that I could grow my agency with new clients and turn it into a fulltime business.


2020 started off with a bang with WAVE season followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. What a year it has been already! Can you share a bit about how the recent situation has affected your business?

Treating clients as I would want to be treated and making planning a vacation as easy as possible has always been my customer service philosophy. While there is a lot of disappointment right now, my service hasn’t changed. I’m still working hard with the goal to make customers’ lives easier, even if it is to postpone or cancel a trip.


When Wave started this year, I was busy helping clients with travel plans. The longer workdays haven’t changed. I am spending time on the phone with clients to discuss their already booked vacations and waiting on long hold times with vendors to cancel or rebook these reservations.


Through all of this I am proving to my customers that I am still their trusted advisor and advocate. I have been able to build confidence with my clients and rebook many of their trips. I believe that travel demand will come back when the Covid-19 crisis has passed, and I want customers to remember the great, thorough, expert service I provided not only in good times but also in bad.


With cancellations (hopefully) behind you, how are you spending your time during this time of Travel Bans and “stay at home” warnings?

Lately I have been very busy helping my clients rebook their trips, answering their questions and staying on top of the latest policies from vendors. I’m also making the best use of any extra time to work within my business on tasks that are easily sidelined in regular travel booking seasons. I am taking additional education available through Avoya Travel as well as vendor trainings. I’ve enrolled in the Travel Institute’s Business Planning and Florida Atlantic University’s Hospitality & Tourism Management Certification courses which are both offered for free right now. So many organizations and companies have opened access to their programs, and it is a great time to take advantage of the time and savings.


I’m also evaluating and tweaking my current processes and scripts that I send to clients. I’ve adjusted my follow-up and quote scripts to acknowledge the current travel environment and connect as a friend rather than hard selling a vacation. In fact, I have always used scripts and calendars to keep in touch with my customers. Now more than ever these frequent touch points keep clients informed and remind them that I’m there for them. Sending regular communication that is purposeful is incredibly valuable. It all comes back to staying in touch with the client, providing helpful service and keeping them informed.


Like many people, I am spending more time at home with my own family than ever before. I’m enjoying having my children home from college and we’re doing more together as a family like sharing meals and playing games. I’m also trying to declutter or organize something daily, a drawer in my home-office, a closet – all the things I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. I’m sure others can relate to this too!


As an experienced Travel Professional, do you have any advice or tips for other Travel Professionals during this challenging time?

It is important to always do what is right for clients. This is the time to talk to your clients and not hide behind your email. I have always set myself apart by keeping in touch with my clients on a regular basis, and that contact is so important right now. I printed my departure report through the end of the year and am calling these clients personally to let them know I am available to assist and answer their questions. You are an advocate for your customers and not an employee of the vendors you book. Reassure customers that you are monitoring the situation with the destination and are on top of vendor and government official recommendations.


We are in very unprecedented times and it is hard, but remember, you’re not alone in this. I am grateful for the support from my host agency (Avoya Travel), their staff and my agent peers. All of us in the travel community are going through the same thing. We can lean on each other, connect with other travel professionals and lift each other up. Together we can get through this.


We know that in this Industry, we are stronger together and it has been shown time and time again through the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you share a few suppliers / partners that have truly helped you and your clients in this challenging time?

I have been impressed with several brands and how they’ve handled our mutual customers’ best interests during the mass of cancelations. Azamara, Celebrity Cruises, the Globus family of brands and Royal Caribbean are a few stand outs that have been easy to work with. I’ve felt supported in how they’ve handled clients’ reservations well, which has made it easier for me to assist my customers. The vendors’ commission protection on canceled cruises and trips has been very helpful in providing cash flow while we wait on the CARES Act. Our professional organizations, such as CLIA and ASTA have also been great advocates for the travel agent community during this time.


Avoya Travel has offered webinars with their executive team to provide support for figuring out the CARES Act and how it affects me as an independent contractor. Avoya has also kept us informed with what they’re doing throughout the company to support Independent Agencies, like me, in the Avoya Network. They have connected us with some vendor executives on live webinars so that we can ask questions and gain insights on how they plan to move forward during this pandemic. Avoya has also updated marketing, done on our behalf, to be relevant during this time and let prospective clients know we are there for them when they are ready to see the world again.


Through these times, we all learn a lot about ourselves and our businesses, can you share a few things that you’ve learned through this current pandemic either personally, professionally or both?

Watching how quickly things developed and changed has made me more aware of a lot of things, both as a travel professional and a consumer. I’ve been on the receiving end of businesses’ closures, cancelation and refund policies and had to change my own plans and routines. I have learned the importance of updating my client waivers and contracts to include pandemics and protect myself and my agency legally.


This is a unique time when we can relate with each other because people all over the country are going through similar emotions, challenges, fears and disappointments. A silver lining is the opportunity to easily find common ground and forge stronger relationships and partnerships – with customers, vendors and even local businesses and neighbors in my community.


Before we conclude, I personally want to thank you for your time and information shared today. We appreciate your involvement in our publication!