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?
Beach Happy Travel began in 2016, officially opening its doors for business in March of 2017. When I initially started the company both the name and my focus of expertise was based on my love of “warm weather escapes”. After six short months our team began to expand along with the requests for additional destinations from our clients. We quickly expanded to a team of 5 agents, at that time the sister company FlyOver Travel was “born” to expand our brand to destinations outside of beach focused vacations. We are located in Leawood, KS (suburb of Kansas City), although our client base expands throughout the United States.
How it all began? I was sitting on the patio of my room in St. Lucia while vacationing with my family having coffee and admiring the beautiful view when it hit me. After spending years in the corporate world, I needed and wanted a change, a career that I could connect too that would bring me joy. I asked myself what I would do the rest of my life if I could and travel was the answer! Having helped friends and family for years plan their vacations based on my travel experiences, I decided putting my talents to “work” and creating a business out of it was a natural next step – the dream began!
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 in the wonderful world of travel for 3 years, running my agency from the beginning. I dove in head first when I started, I feel like I have worked very hard on expanding both my knowledge and expertise through every educational opportunity available and have grown a very valuable network of fellow agents and contacts within the industry that have helped me dramatically over the years.
My best choice by far when I began was to partner with Outside Agents, my host agency. What sealed the deal was when I picked up the phone to call for more information and Steve Muraca (one of the owners answered), not only did he take the time to answer all of my questions he made me feel like this was something I could really succeed at! Outside Agents offers the most amazing training and mentorship, they are there with you every step of the way helping you grow your business according your vision. Absolutely an invaluable partnership! I would not be where I am today without their support and guidance.
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?
2020 was set to be a record-breaking year for our company; we were running at full speed with an amazing team and a booming market! Since March when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, our course has dramatically changed.
Since last fall we have been working very hard preparing our clients for their spring and summer travels, which is our busiest time of year. When the pandemic hit we were right in the middle of Spring Break plans for the majority of our clients. We immediately jumped to action, after about two weeks of very long days and late evenings we were able to either change plans or secure safe returns for approximately 350 clients we had traveling abroad.
After initial focus on the immediate needs of clients traveling, we moved into those traveling April – June. Although we are fortunate to have many who have chosen to re-book their vacations to future dates, we have felt the impact of cancellations. With so much uncertainly surround the situation and the travel industry recovering from this pandemic it has been a difficult road. We find ourselves more often than not in a situation where we want to provide the best service possible to our clients, but are left with many questions regarding what the future will hold.
The immediate affect on our business is a lot of long days spent advocating for our clients, a lot of stress and worry about how our industry is going to recover, some sadness about the financial impact our company is seeing and a lot of hope that we will be able to return to travel soon.
Although our sales goals for this year will probably not be met and many clients have found themselves being disappointed with their dream vacations being either cancelled or put on hold, we do have some silver linings to celebrate. We have received some of the most heartwarming reviews from clients thanking us for being there for them during this time, we have found we are an amazing team that is willing to help each other through the tough times and most importantly we have found we are resilient, we have received so many notes from clients that are ready to look for new adventures as soon as the time is right.
With cancellations (hopefully) behind you, how are you spending your time during this time of Travel Bans and “stay at home” warnings?
Our days look a little different now, but we still have our weekly team meetings via Zoom instead of our favorite local coffee shop. Typically at this time we are all very busy with bookings for summer travel, instead we have created an education plan, focused on expanding our knowledge with destination and supplier certifications and team training on technology and marketing. We are also spending time reaching out to our clients, letting them know we are there for them when they are ready.
I must say, some of the household “to do’s” are also getting done. We love sharing with each other when a new project gets checked off the list!
We celebrate the positives!
As an experienced Travel Professional, do you have any advice or tips for other Travel Professionals during this challenging time?
Believe that this too shall pass. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the negatives that come with this situation when you are constantly inundated with the news, emails and worried clients. We are faced with financial loss, stressful situations and a lot of uncertainly about what the next months will hold.
At the end of the day, I truly believe peoples desire to travel and explore will not go away, it may take some time to get back to where we were and it may not look the same in the future but the travel industry will survive.
Take this time to recharge, evaluate your business plans, educate yourself and inspire your clients future travel dreams.
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?
Such a true statement! We are all “building the car while driving it” at this point. I have had fortunately had the opportunity to work with some really great representatives with a couple of companies and have been so thankful! It seems every time we open email new policies are in place.
A big shout out to Magda at Pleasant Holidays – she took the time to explain all options available to me and helped with some complex changes are refund requests needed. Kelly my group representative at ALG has been a lifesaver, I had a large group traveling in the midst of the start of the situation and she has been so helpful with all of the follow up questions and requests needed. I have also found Vacation Express to be helpful, Rene has been very accessible on Facebook and my BDM Ann has gone above and beyond following up with me on questions and situations I have had.
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?
Professionally I feel like I have leaned as much in 3 weeks as I would have in the next year in regards to policies and procedures! Some in areas I wish I didn’t have to understand so well, but for the most part I have found this to be an invaluable learning experience. The take-a ways, I will probably look at bookings a bit different in the future and have learned the value of Travel Protection Plans! I have also learned that I am lucky enough to work with an extremely supportive community of travel professionals. Suppliers are so very busy that having a support group of seasoned and knowledgeable agents that can answer questions and give guidance has saved so many hours – we are all trying to get through it together!
Personally I have found I am a lot stronger (and maybe stubborn) than I thought I was. There have been many times that throwing in the towel would have been the easy choice, but through it all I found I am energized and driven to find a solution and help my clients. It is so rewarding to be able to provide a positive outcome for someone during such a stressful time, to be there advocate. I have always loved this industry, but the unity and teamwork that I have found during these times is inspirational, rewarding and just solidifies that I am in it for the long haul and can’t wait to start helping my clients plan their dream vacations again!
Before we conclude, I personally want to thank you for your time and information shared today. We appreciate your involvement in our publication!