Written By: Jennifer Dugan, President – Dugan’s Travels
I have found a fresh appreciation for my newer Travel Professional in 2021/agents who do not have to deal with the roadblocks of what selling travel formerly entailed. I often find myself thinking about how, when I got started in the business, using a CRS was an important option. No internet was available to access and do pricing back then. It was books and phone calls all day long.
I remember when Southwest Airlines would release their calendar and we would get on the phone as soon as we arrived at the office and then pass the schedule around the rest of day. Agents would each have 20 or more reservations to make. We would literally be on the phone all day long.
I will admit though that I began my career when agents could accomplish more on the CRS. I remember being able to make a tour operator reservation on the CRS and my boss being upset that she could not figure it out. She would give up and just pick up the phone and call. I was more comfortable doing it on the computer. I am still that person today, preferring to do most of my business online. I still remember the day we got our own Southwest Airlines terminal at the agency; it was like Christmas morning!
We all use resources that we are most comfortable with and fit our personalities. Many of my agents still prefer to pick up the phone and speak live to a reservation agent. It has become more difficult for those agents because of long wait times.
We are also finding suppliers that are outsourcing their call centers, which are staffed with less experienced or hard-to-understand reservation agents. With travel resuming recently, the struggle has increased. I know some of my agents are really questioning how they can rebuild their business when it takes them over 4 hours to get someone on the line. Let’s face it; not everything can be done on a website.
I realize that when I entered the industry over 25 years ago, the agents in my office struggled to learn our new CRS. I had no prior experience to back me up. I just used what I had learned in school and adapted. I did not use the excuse that I did not like the new way of doing things like my boss did. She continued to struggle while I flourished. It would take her hours trying to use the CRS, only to eventually give up and call a supplier, just to wait on hold.
I hear the frustration in my agents’ voices when they talk about what things were like before COVID-19. Many had businesses that were thriving and then it all crashed. Now as they see a light at the end of the tunnel, they are frustrated with phone hold times, then getting reservation agents who are less experienced when they do finally get a person on the phone. Adapting to this new normal is hard for those with many years in the industry. I try to help agents avoid those calls when possible, but that is not always an option.
For some Travel Professional in 2021, they actually mourn letting go of what used to be their normal. They long for the times when calls were answered quickly by someone who knew what you needed and helped you get there. They reminisce about days gone by when the reservation agents were not stretched so thin handling so many territories.
So many suppliers have grown, while not supplementing their reservation agents to cover that growth. I often talk to suppliers who claim they are trying to hire, but there is no desire to work in the travel business anymore.
Travel will continue to increase as more people get vaccinated against COVID. It is a positive step for our industry, but it will be a challenge to rebuild it to its former status. The truth is that travel may never be what it once was pre-COVID-19. We must let go and accept that we, as travel agents, will need to change our processes to make things better. We may not be able to make as many reservations, thus we must charge more service fees to compensate.
We will need to use our speaker phone and hope that the projected two-hour wait time is correct, and it is not extended to four hours. We must be optimistic that suppliers will be able to rehire enough staff to manage the calls that will come in.
We may need suppliers to invest in technology so that their websites allow for more online features. Some suppliers do not have the capacity for making modifications or changes online. More suppliers need to use technology like chat features, email, and other convenient tools to lessen the load on the phone lines.
We also need Travel Professional in 2021 to adapt and realize that we cannot expect to go back to what the travel business once was. This may be a challenge for some of us. I know both agents and suppliers have had to learn to adjust to so many things in the past year.
We cannot just flip a switch and go back to the way it used to be. If we remember life before COVID-19, we were busy. Suppliers were busy. We had long wait times. Now those suppliers are getting busy once again, but with maybe half the staff they had before.
The time has come for us to adjust our expectations and accept the new normal of travel. We must be patient on this road to recovery. My hope is that we can all adapt and prosper together.