Virtuoso’s top US advisors ‘moving out of recovery and into normalcy’

Virtuoso’s top advisors have said they are moving out of the recovery phase of Covid-19 and into levels of pre-pandemic “normalcy”.

Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer, said the business is “out of recovery and looking forward”, while Gary Johnson, who owns Woodside Travel in Seattle, said his agency is “going in the right direction now”.

Joshua Bush, chief executive of Avenue Two Travel, which employs over 100 independent contractors across the United States, said his agency is “moving out of recovery and back into some normalcy” and had seen a 30% increase in calls in the last two weeks despite the presence of the Delta variant. 

Bush said one of the ways the company had been combatting border changes and travel restrictions was ‘trip stacking’, whereby the agency books multiple trips over the same dates and utilises operators’ flexible cancellation policies to postpone whichever trip isn’t used. 

“This guarantees that they're able to do something, but it also helps build the pipeline for us,” he said, highlighting one client who has booked a Silversea Cruise and a Hawaiian trip over the same dates in October.

“The Silversea Cruise has a 30 day cancellation and the Hawaiian trip has seven days’ cancellation,” he said. 

“They're going to do both. They're going to cancel one but then shift that one back so we built this pipeline for them and it ensures that the clients are actually going to get to go on a trip, because it's been so long that they've had a chance to do so.”

Johnson agreed, adding: “We’re doing pretty much same thing. I've been doing double bookings for about a year, especially with Fiji. We keep thinking Fiji is going to open so we booked people to go, but then we booked them in a Hawaii destination because we know one will fall and one will take hold.”

But Pindar said SmartFlyer would only book trips to destinations that are currently open.

“And I think that's part of being a good advisor, you have to understand what's available,” she said.

“We're not in 2020 anymore. We just don't know [when certain destinations will open] and the booking windows are way shorter than they were before, seasonality is flat, so we can only book what is available to us at the moment.

“I think [that transparency] makes clients more comfortable. Predictability is important these days. And the bookings speak for themselves; they're larger and longer than ever.”

Tania Swasbrook, vice president and luxury travel designer at Travelworld International Group, agreed, adding that clients weren’t particularly fussy about where they travelled as long as they could get away.

“I’m seeing a lot of words like ‘worry fatigue’ where people [don’t know when a country will open or close again] so they want to go now. I get daily questions about Delta but they're not cancelling, they're saying, ‘Look, I want to go. Let's make this happen.’ And if a country closes down then you switch to a different location. They're going. It's a shift, not a cancellation.”

Speaking on a virtual live-streamed press panel at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, the speakers all agreed that the role of a good travel agent had never been so apparent.

“We’re finding now more than ever, using a Virtuoso travel advisor for the little things [is so important],” Johnson said. 

“People call us wanting to go to Canada, they want to know when the borders will open, they're wanting to navigate the testing to go to Hawaii, and they're saying we could never do it without working with a professional Virtuoso advisor.

“So we're finding a lot of new clients are coming that way, who are looking for help because they've given up trying to do it themselves because it changes so often.”

Pindar agreed, adding: “Using a travel advisor now more than ever is the most valuable time to do so."

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