The travel and tourism industry has been devastated by the impact of COVID-19. Being a Travel Agent during the pandemic has been no easy feat. We caught up with the team at FirstClass.com.au to see how they have coped through these turbulent times and hear what’s on the horizon moving forward as our industry begins the road to recovery.
1. What has a typical day involved for you as a Travel Agent at FirstClass.com.au since COVID-19 started impacting Australians ability to travel?
My work day has changed immensely since the Covid-19 outbreak. Instead of booking clients on their dream holidays, we are spending almost all of our time sorting refunds and credits.
Throughout March and April, I was handling multiple cancellations a day, as well as back and forth emails and calls with customers regarding fees, airline regulations and fare rules. Now in October, I am filling my day calling customers and updating them on airline policies and working on the website’s domestic product range.
There is a huge difference between the work I am doing now, compared to my previous sales orientated role. It’s almost a different job entirely!
2. How have your suppliers handled the COVID-19 travel bands, have they been forthcoming with refunds or offered the option of a travel credit to pass onto your clients for future use? Have any of your suppliers gone into receivership?
There has been a bit of a mix between suppliers. Some have been great and offered full refunds or credits, some have stuck to their fees and others have not processed any refunds at all!
Refund conditions have also changed multiple times throughout the pandemic. They are becoming more frequent, although are reliant upon travel dates. Various airlines have had to restructure which has seriously delayed the refunds.
No suppliers we deal with have gone into receivership. Luckily for us, the majority of our preferred suppliers have been reliable.
3. Your clients have understandably been affected by the travel bans surrounding COVID-19 and have had to cancel or postpone their holidays. How have they reacted when you have had to deliver news about refunds (or lack thereof)?
Lots of clients have been very understanding and just accepted the news. They can see we are just the messenger in this pandemic situation. However, there have also been quite a few clients who have been frustrated with the unfavourable news and pushed back a little. It has been hard for them to understand that our agency isn’t responsible for delays and lack of options. I have felt terrible for those who have missed out on seeing loved ones or were looking forward to an amazing Holiday. I do understand their frustration, but have not enjoyed feeling blamed.
4. Have your clients been treating you any differently over the past 10 months to now? How have you coped with this?
Many have been lovely and supportive, but I have noticed some clients who I have previously had a positive relationship with have become sour and upset. I can completely understand that response and have tried to stop getting myself emotionally invested in these situations.
To begin with I was so stressed. I was struggling to sleep as I have never had to deal with this kind of situation before in all my time as a Travel Agent. I later made the decision to keep my personal feelings separate to work and be strict with the policies and procedures of our company and the airlines. As soon as it hit 5:30pm I would shut down and not think about work at all until 8:55am the next day which was much better for my mental health during COVID-19.
5. Obviously, travel has been severely restricted over the past 10 months. As a Travel Agent have you noticed a change in booking patterns of what was being sold over this time?
I would guess there has been at least a 90% reduction in overall sales. The few clients that were still travelling, were keeping within their own state, so we have seen a rise in luxury domestic holidays, which has been great for our industry and Australia’s recovery. Antarctica day flights were popular and people returning home. Byron Bay area and the Hunter Valley were extremely popular during Winter and Spring when borders closed again.
Recently we have been noticing a significant decline in advance bookings. Those wanting to travel are trying to arrange things at the very last minute. They have often been disappointed, as most luxury Australian properties are booking out well in advance since the borders began to open.
We are advising people to book well in advance to avoid disappointment. Most properties have updated their cancellation policies in light of this and have fair polices in place to protect those booking in advance. So, enquire about your accommodations cancellation policy with your Travel Agent at the time of booking.
6. With the majority of your client base at FirstClass.com.au usually opting for international travel, what feedback have you received from those that undertook domestic trips?
I would say the majority of my clients that I have spoken to have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of Australia and the many wonderful sites and experiences on offer as well as the level of luxury accommodation on their doorstep.
7. Looking to the future, what products or destinations have been selling particularly well over the last few weeks and have solid bookings for 2021/2022?
We’ve been receiving quite a few enquiries for the Kimberley region and Cruising in the Kimberley for 2021 and Queensland is always popular for us. Islands like Lizard Island, Bedarra and Hayman have been booking well for 2021. Capella Lodge on Norfolk Island has been popular, as have the Spicers Retreat properties in the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains. Byron Bay is always a favourite and those that love cruising, are booking for late 2021 and 2022 voyages.
We anticipate the demand increasing once the domestic borders are completely open without any restrictions.
8. Have you noticed a change in people’s attitudes over the past few weeks, with the imminent reopening of the borders and the talk of international travel back on the table?
Yes, I feel everyone is becoming more optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel and are eagerly awaiting the domestic borders reopening. The vast majority of our clients can’t wait to get back overseas as soon as it is safe to do so. We’ve had a few clients mention they are awaiting a vaccine before embarking on an overseas trip and some our more elderly clients are a little more hesitant to travel any time soon, due to the health risks associated.
Predominantly people are excited and ready to set off once again. Enquires are on the rise and generally there is a feeling of positivity around travelling again.
9. What advice do you have for travellers moving forward post COVID-19?
Use this opportunity to see Australia, and I don’t just mean Ayers Rock or the Gold Coast. There are so many unique experiences available all over Australia on any budget. Travelling within Australia is the best way to help boost our economy and the tourism industry in general. Talk to your Travel Agent at First Class and they can tailor a luxury holiday within Australia to suit your needs.
There are many benefits to travelling domestically:
• You can have a longer holiday in Australia due to time saved on flying internationally
• No language barriers
• You will be supporting the Australian economy and local business rebuild after COVID-19
• Reduced health risks
• Money saved on airfares can be put towards longer stays or more luxurious accommodation options within Australia
• You are closer to home should an emergency arise
• You will help stop the spread of COVID-19