This week, we had the opportunity to interview a travel professional to learn more about their new reality in the context of COVID-19. This person prefers to remain anonymous, so we will refer to them in this article as our “special agent”. For them, the pandemic has not only brought its share of administrative issues (dealing with unused credits and reimbursements) but it has also had a significant impact on customer service.
Inform, guide, and reassure
Since this is a new reality for everyone, the procedures are not always clear, and customers are asking many more questions than ever before, and our special agent and his team must constantly make sure to provide them with the right answers and reassure them. Travellers need to know what to expect; travel-related surprises during a pandemic are rarely good and a lack of information can lead to a lack of preparation and therefore to a trip that does not go as planned. To make their experience less stressful, our special agent highlights the importance of obtaining accurate and precise information and explaining all the measures taken to ensure their safety at each stage of their journey as well as the restrictions that could affect it. If the mask is mandatory at the airport, for example, a traveler needs to know beforehand! However, our special agent believes that if these new procedures are there to stay, they will eventually become the new normal for travelers; these questions should then dissipate over time.
To answer these questions, our special agent and their team need to do a lot of research to make sure they are advising clients well. They gather information from not only airlines and hotels, but also embassies, government authorities, etc. International travel is particularly complex. Measures, laws, and requirements vary depending on the carrier and/or the destination, so agencies must be very careful, rigorous, and vigilant in their search for information so as not to mislead customers. It is also necessary to do the same research regularly because the regulations are constantly evolving. The role of the travel advisor is therefore to process these requests for information case by case because each situation is unique. For example, the government allows family reunification, which includes the common-law spouses; but what defines a common-law spouse? It is important to check this kind of detail to avoid a traveller being trapped at the border, unable to enter the country. Our special agent always advises travellers to have the correct documentation proving the eligibility of their trips with them for the entire duration of their trip. However, this is not a guarantee that everything will run smoothly, even if everything is in order on paper.
Unfortunately, sometimes there is just no clear answer to a customer’s question. For example, in some countries, the eligibility of a traveller to enter is at the discretion of the border services officer. In these kinds of cases, it is necessary to warn the travellers so that they understand the risks.
Insurance coverage can cause unpleasant surprises because many do not cover the potential risks associated with pandemics. Extensions are not always allowed, for example. Our special agent stressed the importance of getting detailed information about the exceptions that could make you uninsurable. Do not assume that you will have the same coverage as usual. Caution is advised!
In a few words, the advice to remember from our special agent is to be vigilant and well informed. Your agents are there to help you through all stages of your trips; at your request, they will look for all kinds of information for you, even the details that are usually taken for granted such as breakfast at the hotel or the shuttle service between the airport and the hotel. Communication is more important than ever to reduce risk and the concerns related to it. Our interviewee noted an increase in travel demand, which is a good sign; people feel confident enough to start travelling again. The advice that the agents provide to travellers helps increase this feeling of confidence. If the travellers feel well accompanied and have a good travel experience following the advice received, they will be grateful and inclined to travel again and their concerns will dissipate over time.