Comment: Partnerships can boost our resilience in difficult times

Haslemere Travel and Aito Specialist Travel Agents’ Gemma Antrobus says collaboration is key when it comes to overcoming challenges

Last week I was reminded just how volatile the travel industry is – but also how adaptable and resilient we have, by necessity, become.

To be honest, I’d never really forgotten, but the days of the stress and workload associated with the pandemic cancellations and loss of revenue now seem so long ago that my brain had tricked me into thinking that life was getting back to ‘normal’.

The ever-evolving geopolitical situation in the Middle East, however, has brought about a new set of challenges. For some time now, we have noted additional safety and security concerns from clients interested in this part of the world – particularly Egypt’s proximity to Israel and Oman’s proximity to Yemen. Thankfully, with up-to-date information from the ground teams of our favourite independent operators, we have been forearmed with plenty of advice for clients, above and beyond the headlines of the major news outlets. This has been invaluable and has put many minds at rest.

However, the stretch of water between the coasts of the Middle East and northeast Africa has certainly brought about a new set of challenges for the cruise industry. As you will appreciate, many of the cruise lines are currently part-way through their round-the-world voyages, with most, if not all, planning on sailing back through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to reach mainland Europe, meaning that the current disruption is not insignificant.

Cancellation blow

Without exception, all cruise lines take the safety of their guests, crews and ships very seriously; the decision either to cancel cruises or to reroute them won’t have been taken lightly and will, of course, have incurred considerable costs. Every agent and operator also understands this, and we would all completely agree – so why did that totally-winded feeling take me by such surprise when my luxury cruise bookings were cancelled, with a 100% refund? It was a feeling I hadn’t had since 2020-21.

But, as an independent travel agent that has survived the pandemic and built back a thrilling level of business – we have just reported our best January in over 15 years – I had to have a strong word with myself, followed by a walk around the block, plus a few deep breaths. Only then did I feel able to return to my desk ready to process these totally unavoidable cancellations . . . just like the totally unavoidable ones during the pandemic.

Working relationships

One thing I am exceptionally grateful for is the strong working relationships I have with my supplier partners, both tour operators and cruise lines. Open lines of communication, swift responses and effective resolutions for clients only come when you work hard to choose the right partners, building trust and respect over time, and knowing precisely who best to contact when needed.

As a business that has been planning holidays for over 35 years, some of our relationships also span this considerable length; others are newer but equally strong. The element that they all have in common is that we enjoy working with them, and we also trust them implicitly.

A recent study by the Harvard Business School suggested that all selling will become ‘relationship selling’, and that all success in business will be based on the relationships you have with your customers and suppliers.

Your best clients will be the ones who you like and who like you. Indeed, 85% of your referrals are likely to come from people who both like – and feel good about – you. Focusing on all the many relationship elements in the booking journey is equally important, from the choice of suppliers and people you work with to the care you take of your clients. When things don’t quite go to plan, it makes such a difference knowing that your partners take just as much care of your clients as you do.

Beyond this, the stark reality for anyone in travel is that we will forever have those moments when we need to walk around the block or take a few deep breaths. But together, with friendship, respect, support and partnership, we can overcome our challenges . . . whatever they may be.

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