First-hand experience ‘key for agents to advise clients’

Leading agents have said getting first-hand experience of travel experiences is more key than ever to be able to inform and reassure customers, and they believe now could be one of the safest times to travel with new measures in place.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Miles Morgan, chairman of Miles Morgan Travel, said: “I think there are an awful lot of people who are wondering, what’s it like in an airport at the moment? How do airports achieve social distancing? What extra restrictions are there? What’s it like on the aircraft? Is everybody wearing masks? How on earth do I go to the toilet? Do I have to sit with their legs crossed for old two and a half hours?

“It’s these basic, simple questions people are interested to know. When you get to the resort, is a buffet a thing of the past? How are they doing breakfasts and lunches if so? Is it every other sunbed in use around a swimming pool? Or what happens on the beach?”

He added: “It’s all simple, basic things that people are concerned about and if you can knock them off one by one and give people the confidence that actually these things are fully thought-through and actually, it isn’t something to worry about, that would really  help.

“In theory, it will give customers more confidence to travel over the summer.”

Morgan said he was planning to travel to Spain imminently to take photos, record video footage and write blogs about the experience to help his staff understand the “new normal” overseas.

Amanda Matthews, joint managing director of Designer Travel, said: “The hotels in general have spent a lot of this lockdown educating travel agents, and they have, in in a lot of cases, kept us very up-to-date with their new ways of working and procedures. I believe it will probably be one of the safest times to travel because there’s going to be so many additional safety measures put in place.”

She added: “We need people to start holidaying so that they can start sharing their pictures and on social media, because that’s what we all do.”

Matthews said she has one homeworker who lives in Spain and one that works from Portugal within her network and said both had travelled back to Europe in the last fortnight.

“They said the airport experience was amazing. The flights were full, but they said it was a dream to get through. They never had any problems on the plane; it was all ok. They were given water and some refreshments, just no alcohol.

“But the more we can see those things happening and the more information we can give, the better.”

Matthews added that checklists were being provided to homeworkers with links to hotel and airline websites to provide clarity on specific procedures in place.

“It’s about getting the clients to be as informed as possible before they go so they’re fully aware of what the extra precautions are or all the way it’s going to work, as opposed to being shocked when they get there,” she said.

Alistair McLean, owner of Dorking Travel, said getting agents back on fam trips was crucial.

He said: “Whether it’s going to a restaurant or pub in this country or going on holiday, I think that we will learn to live with all of the restrictions and everything else going forward. “ he said. “This isn’t something that’s going to go away in six months’ time. It’s going to be with us for a long period of time.

“But before all of this, people used to come in and talk to a travel agent because we had the experience – we’ve had first-hand experience. Why do we invest so much time and effort on going on fam trips? Because then we can come back and sell that destination better.  I was lucky enough last year to go on a fam trip to Mauritius and I was able to sell a mountain more Mauritius holidays because I was able to say, ‘Oh, when I was there a couple of months ago, this is what I found’.”

He added: “If we can say to people, ‘when I was on the aircraft four weeks ago with my three children, and they took their face masks off and that wasn’t a problem, or when I was in this particular hotel, breakfast was brought to me in my room, but it was actually flexible, etc, those are the things that will really show the value of the travel agent.

“People are going to be asking about much more than they used to ask about. Instead of how many restaurants in a hotel, or what time do they stop serving breakfast, it’s all these practical things post-Covid, that they are going to want to know about.

“I think sending agents on fam trips again will pay dividends because hopefully those customers will be able to go out the door or to finish speaking to the homeworker, and say to their friends, if you want answers to these questions, go and speak to somebody. Don’t spend three hours online.”

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