Your Travel Agent Needs More Than A Hug!
Updated: Jun 11
Written by Loveleen Multani Arun on LinkedIn and reposted with permission.
And what you can do to help!
What a month (or two) it has been! As the dreaded Corona Virus has spread around the world, it has created massive waves of economic destruction and social havoc in the countries that it has entered. One after the other, travel advisories have been issued and like uncontrollable domino pieces one country has been locked down after another. Then cities and neighbourhoods, until 90% of the world is now confined to their homes. This has had far reaching effects on each and every one of us and to all our businesses. Some have seen immediate impact and for some there will be reverberating repercussions for many months to come.
Undeniably, the travel industry – comprising of airlines, hotels, travel agencies and tour operators are the frontline soldiers who have bitten the first bullets. Like a never-ending nightmare, one travel plan after another is being cancelled, business trips have turned into virtual meetings and large events have abandoned resulting in millions of trips being terminated.
After the cheery Christmas holidays when people travel to be with their loved ones or to take advantage of the holidays; January and February are somewhat quieter months for travel agents. This time is usually spent in brushing up on product knowledge, creating and finalising new itineraries for the summer, training staff to gear up for the pressure of work in the coming months because almost 60% of the annual business happens between April – August globally. When the first news of the Wuhan virus started coming out in early February, the first reactions were – well Asian destinations cannot be considered, let us focus on Europe, Africa and USA...and we will all be fine. But then the panic gripped the world! And how!
Starting 1st of March, in a terrifying sequence, planned trips started getting cancelled. Every call was for that of changed minds. Initially the calls were about asking advice but that soon turned into a committed level of not wanting to travel and eventually, no one had a choice to travel due to the severe lockdowns. Soon, (and rightly so) the conversations have turned to “refunds”. Everyone who had booked and paid and eventually cancelled, wanted their money back.
In general there is a misconception that travel-agents wont or don't want to refund your money. I would like to put my neck out on behalf of 99.9% of my tribe in the travel-industry to say that this is NOT TRUE! In this age when the off-line agents are all competing to stay relevant in the time of online booking engines, we WANT to be able to give value to our clients. We take PRIDE in being on your side and fighting for refunds on YOUR BEHALF. Some of my own most loyal customers have stayed with Panache World because we have worked to waive off cancellation charges, extended payment deadlines or just managed to work out refunds for botched up stays. The travel agents NEED’NT do it, but most of them are PASSIONATE about it. I can vouch for this because I am privy to a lot of industry Whatsapp chat groups where most are actively involved in minimising damage for their clients.
In the present scenario, remember that if you had booked a tour with your travel agent in February for travel in lets say June, he/she would have paid up for the flights, remitted money to the overseas agents/hotel or booked some non-refundable flights in remote countries like Uzbekistan! The profit that the agent would have earned would have already been consumed towards paying salaries and other fixed costs. You are right in cancelling your trip, but the travel agents need time to check with each vendor & supplier on their terms, they need to get that refund back from each of them and this process under NORMAL circumstances can take up to a month. And these are EXTRAORDINARY times! The entire supply chain has completely dried up! No one wants to cheat you out of the refund. We just need time! The whole world just needs time right now. Just because the times are bad; intentions are not.
Had this been September instead of March, the scenario may have been slightly better as we would be coming out of a good season. But it is not. We are coming out of a slow quarter. All travel companies, small hotels who don't have deep funds or investor-pockets they can dip into are in dire straits. The employees are clueless about the future and the usually flamboyant owners are walking around with lumps in their throats talking about unpaid leaves and layoffs to their loyal employees.
What can you do to help?
Be patient with your travel agent. Give him/her time to sort out your refund. If you are not willing to risk it all, ask for a credit note until such time that the funds can be transferred. Of course, my heart also goes out to all the people who booked directly with online companies and hotels and airlines – good luck with fighting this on your own….else you would have had an army behind you.
The other thing you can do to help is to look for a nice, boutique travel company who looks out for you, is knowledgeable, is informative and who matches your travel-quotient. And be fiercely loyal to them. Book your next trip with them!
And yes, also, we REALLY DO NEED THOSE HUGS!
(See you on the other side….when we shall talk about how beautiful the wonderful destinations are and how we can get you there)
About the writer
Loveleen Multani Arun is the Director Panache World, a boutique travel company based in Bangalore that specialises in customised holidays for clients since 18 years.