As airlines, airports and luxury hotels stumble, travel advisors shine bright

As the travel industry stumbles with mass flight cancellations, airport chaos and five-star hotels offering three-star services at seven-star prices, travel agents or travel counselors, as they have renowned, shine, helping their clients navigate the bumps.

The proof of this is both in revenues, which exceed pre-Covid-19 levels, and above all in new customers. Advisors report that up to half of their clients are using professional travel planning services for the first time.

They arrive frustrated after spending hours on hold with suppliers and online travel agencies, known as OTAs, where the personal touch is often computer-generated phone bots.

During the first half of 2022, sales of Virtuosoa global luxury-focused travel agency network with estimated annual revenue of $30 billion, topped 2019 record highs by 2%, and future bookings are ahead by 47% to pre-pandemic levels.

“If you walk away from what we do, you’d be crazy to do it yourself, (customers tell us), ‘I can’t spend an hour and a half on the phone with the airline for a change you can done in five minutes,” says Anthony Goldman, co-CEO of Goldman Travel Companya band member based in Australia.

He says newbies come to advisers either through referrals from friends, often needing “rescue” after well-laid, paid plans hit a pothole.

Speaking at the annual Virtuoso conference being held this week in Las Vegas, Beth Washington, the founder of Washington DC travel guild, says, “Customers are willing to spend more for a good trip,” adding, “To take a trip and just search on Google; you don’t know the quality and the current state (of what is offered)… We find a lot of people coming to see us. People are ready to pay. »

It’s probably because consumers are tired of being disappointed and, in some cases, misled. For example, a luxury hotel selling spa and suite packages without disclosing the spa was only open for limited hours. According to a study by the American Society of Travel Advisors, only 47% of consumers say hotels and resorts are back to normal, and 71% say travel planning has become more complex. Result: 43% say they use more travel advisors.

“The industry is dancing on the edge of a cliff…people who don’t use advisors come back upset and disappointed. It’s bad for the industry,” says Jack Ezon, chief executive of the New York-based company. Embark beyond. “Hotels have to be honest. Sometimes being vulnerable is endearing. They hide behind “because of the covid”, he says.

Matthew Upchurch, president of Virtuoso, says his advice to vendors is to be upfront about service levels. “A lot of customers will give you leeway if you are transparent. This allows the customer to make informed decisions.

Washington says it now takes twice as long to plan trips. When customers call, it’s a complex ballet of determining hotel availability, making sure desirable rooms can be booked, finding out if airlines have seats on the corresponding dates and, of course, at the price. For example, Goldman says the cost of business class flights between the United States and Australia has doubled from pre-pandemic levels.

Plus, advisors are no longer just booking hotels and sending bon voyage greetings. Good advisors consider it normal to help clients secure restaurant reservations and spa appointments.

Washington says she understands this can be difficult for suppliers. She notes that changing regulations and employment levels can mean a hotel must adjust the services it is able to open on short notice.

Advisors say this makes their role even more critical. Through their long-standing relationships with the executives of the hotels they book, advisors get inside information on which restaurants are open, which services are still suspended, and when they might be reinstated.

“Pre-planning prevents quite poor performance,” says James Turner, CEO of Sevenoaks, England. 360 Private Trip.

How soon will things get better?

Upchurch says the general manager of a luxury hotel in a major European city recently told him: “One of the fundamental problems in the travel and hospitality industry is that (hotel) owners will spend $10 million for a new cigar bar, but what they’re willing to charge the staff for is shocking.

Upchurch predicts: “There is going to be a separation between organizations that treat their employees well. It will take time, but it will happen. »

In the meantime, consumers are flocking to travel advisors to help them figure it out. Virtuoso research shows that its clients are six times more likely to trust recommendations from their advisors than those from a friend.

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