Travel companies that prioritised service during Covid due ‘dividend’

Travel firms that pivoted to the changing demands of customers will reap “dividends” throughout the winter and next year, the chief executive of Travel Counsellors predicts.

Steve Byrne says agents that offered solid honest advice throughout the pandemic will see their customer service rewarded through bookings when travel rebounds.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, he explained how individual travel counsellors changed what they were selling in reaction to what customers wanted – and were able to do – throughout Covid.

He said “hats off” to cruise lines for offering ex-UK domestic cruises, which he described as a “great short-term opportunity” but questioned how permanent such sailings would be.

Byrne advised: “Be driven by what the customer wants. I expect demand for staycations next year, partly influenced by experiences people have had this year.

“But there’s no doubt we expect summer 2022, in terms of overseas travel, will be much better than summer 2021.”

Looking back at how agents fared during the pandemic, he said those who had the passion for working in the industry did what they needed to do to make their businesses and livelihoods viable.

“We’ve all seen our incomes decimated for a prolonged period, albeit it’s now recovering,” he said. “You do what you need to get through it. If that means taking other paid income, you do. But if you want to stick to travel, you pivot.”

He explained: “We’ve got travel counsellors who were selling cruise now doing more non-cruise; we’ve got corporate TCs doing a bit of leisure.”

Speaking about customer service, Byrne said: “We’ve been open for business throughout summer but making sure we advise customers in an appropriate way.

“We’ve got a duty of care, taking into account government travel advice.

“Every interaction with a customer, about a refund, rebooking or change, is an investment in that relationship.

“That will pay dividends this winter and next year.

“A lot of travel companies have gone out of their way, notwithstanding the challenges, to make sure they look after customers and enhance their reputation. Not everyone has, not everyone has been in a position to, but we have certainly done it and had affirmation.”

Byrne added: “There is a great opportunity now for travel advisors to not only retain loyalty built over the past 15 months and before, but to leverage the advocacy from existing customers to get more new business.

“People who have had a bad experience see there’s an increasing need for hand-holding. They want to make sure their trip is safe and secure, so the advisor has never been needed more. Those who have been doing acts of kindness because they care about the customer can look to a brilliant few years ahead. They just need to navigate the next few months.

“There were some not-so-great stories last year about refunds or timing of refunds, but overall the industry, particularly those on the frontline, have done an outstanding job supporting customers in managing changes over which we’ve had no control whatsoever.”

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