Since the spring of 2020, when a global pandemic brought life around the world to a standstill, the travel industry has been on a rollercoaster ride.
Even after social isolation measures and closed borders began to ease, the industry still had much to deal with—including finding ways to conduct business in new and more sustainable ways amid the the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change and environmental devastation. And following close on the heels of that ongoing challenge, inflation set in, driving up the cost of doing business precipitously as the costs of food, fuel and labor soared.
For years now, travel advisors have had to navigate this rapidly evolving landscape and 2023 is likely to require continued agility.
With that in mind, TravelPulse asked agents to share their thoughts about the top mistakes to avoid in the year ahead and the biggest questions and issues they and their colleagues are likely to face over the next 12 months.
1. The world has changed dramatically. Don’t pretend it hasn’t
“As advisors, we all know the travel world has changed dramatically. The biggest mistake to avoid in 2023 will be to assume that our clients know this,” says Jesse Morris of We Book Travel.
“We spent a lot of time helping our clients prepare for the temporary changes to travel such as masking, social distancing and vaccination requirements. However, there are a lot of permanent changes that our clients may assume are just temporary,” he added.
What are some of the developments that are here to stay?
Small things like QR codes replacing menus at restaurants are likely a permanent part of the travel experience, as is contactless check-in at hotels and airports and virtual tours of popular cultural attractions.
All of these changes driven initially by the pandemic, may continue to be a part of the travel landscape for years to come—and it would be a mistake for agents to neglect addressing the new reality with clients. “The more we prepare clients pre-trip, the better their experience will be overall,” says Morris.
2. The cost of travel has increased and is likely to remain high. Be up front about this reality
“Another area that we need to be prepared to discuss is appropriate budgeting,” says Morris. “The cost of air travel has increased. And as people get more accustomed to the pricing being at its current levels, the less likely we are to see it decrease by much— even after airline staffing and routes are back to more acceptable levels.”
It’s also worth noting that prices are likely to continue to climb even more throughout 2023, so this reality will need to be made clear during conversations with customers.
“There are estimates that airfare will rise by more than 8 percent in 2023. People who are waiting to book the air because they are anticipating a drop are likely to be disappointed,” says Morris. “And so we need to be prepared to discuss this with our clients.”
3. Education will be essential in 2023. Don’t neglect this step
“Education for you and for your agents is crucial this year. Be on top of your agency, know destinations, requirements, tour companies, and the ins and outs of our industry,” advises Tammy Levent, founder of Elite Travel.
Clients are likely to be shopping around and comparing the offerings, skills and knowledge of multiple professionals. Educating yourself so that you stand out in a potential client’s mind will be key to success.
“You need to have a competitive angle against your competition,” says Levent. “Live and breathe what you sell.”
4. Don’t skimp on your advertising and marketing budget
“Whatever you do, do not stop advertising or marketing your agency,” says Levent. “This is a mistake that we make, we tend to save money and stop advertising, when this is the time we need to advertise and get our name out there more.”
If your brand is not promoted on social media and other advertising avenues, your agency will definitely feel the effects, says Levent.
5. Do express empathy and understanding when working with clients amid such uncertain times
“You will have clients who are afraid to pull the trigger on a vacation, make sure to empathize with them,” says Levent.
These past few years have been hard on everyone—individuals and businesses alike. The brutal realities of the pandemic are still being processed. And for many, that has triggered a newfound appreciation for the value of life and how fleeting it really is.
“We have realized life is too short and no one, of course, is guaranteed a tomorrow,” continues Levent.
Maybe a client is struggling to find a way to make the three-week trip they’ve been dreaming of work. But as a travel professional, you can bring empathy to the table and help that client find another itinerary, destination, or option that is equally fulfilling.
“If you do not take your time with your client, they will go elsewhere, they need hand holding in these hard times, online agencies cannot give them that,” says Levent.
6. Do check-in regularly with your vendors
Regular and effective communication is essential for nearly any business to run smoothly. But in 2023, it will be particularly important to maintain open lines of communication with vendors.
“Make sure you have strong relations with your vendors,” says Levent. “Do your research and make sure they are stable as they were prior to COVID and able to sustain our economic turnaround.”
This is particularly critical because if a vendor suddenly goes out of business, where does that leave you and your clients? Levent even suggests that advisors consider securing bankruptcy insurance.
7. Do embrace new forms of communication in 2023
As part of your efforts to continue reaching new market segments and clients, consider expanding or diversifying the methods communication you utilize.
“Travel advisors should embrace different forms of communication as an avenue to reach consumers across age groups,” says Corey Hargarther, travel advisor for Dream Vacations. “In the past, I was most comfortable using traditional methods such as email or phone. But last month, I engaged with a new client referral almost entirely via text message and booked his trip next spring on Royal Caribbean.”
“Additionally, I was also contacted via Facebook Messenger earlier this year for a babymoon and found that this was by far the easiest method to reach this client,” adds Hargarther.
8. Don’t assume clients will follow the same purchasing behaviors they have followed in the past
After two years of being stuck at home, clients may be ready to break out of past travel patterns. In some cases, this may mean traveling more luxuriously than in the past.
“For example, I just sold a Globus Paris, Normandy & Châteaux Country with London tour for September 2023 for just over $10,000,” says Hargarther. “That client has booked trips almost annually with our agency since 1997. The escorted tour they booked cost almost double their previous vacations.”
Given that clients have spent much more time at home over the past three years, they are often spending significantly more today than they might have in the past, says Hargarther.
9. Don’t place too much emphasis on lead-in pricing
Rather than focusing lead-in pricing in 2023, Hargarther says agents will be better served emphasizing best overall value with clients.
“Cruise lines such as Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess and Holland America often offer packages with extras such as gratuities, Wi-Fi and beverages, which cost significantly less when purchased together with the cruise versus onboard the ship,” explains Hargarther. “This is a win-win opportunity for both the travel advisor and the consumer.”
10. Continue proving your value with every client
There’s no denying the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about major upheaval and challenges for businesses and individuals around the world.
But there were also more than a few stories of companies and sectors that not only survived, but thrived. Travel agents in particular became more essential than ever as industry experts who could help clients navigate the rapidly changing landscape and country-by-country rules and regulations.
“If there were any positives to come from it, it was the visibility that travel advisors got as experts and a go-to resource for travelers—compared to online travel booking engines,” said Morris.
“But as time goes on, people will start to forget how painful the last few years were and slip back into their old habits,” Morris adds. “We have to be diligent about proving our value with each and every client in 2023 and beyond. We have to stay top of mind and make sure clients think of us first for each and every trip. If we fail here, it will be a fatal mistake.”