There are two ways to navigate through the coronavirus pandemic: lose heart, hope and composure; or keep calm, treat it as an opportunity, come up with a strategy, and get down to business.
Travel Professionals International (TPI) is choosing the latter without the slightest flicker of doubt that travel will rebound. They are uniting as a TPI family and using the downtime created by the health crisis to work on their weaknesses – with song, dance and laughs to keep everyone motivated.
As the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, borders started closing and travel plans were being cancelled, TPI CEO Zeina Gedeon tells Open Jaw it was an unprecedented time of chaos for the host agency’s members.
“We had three and a half weeks of hell because of all the cancellations. The biggest challenge was that our suppliers’ policies kept changing, which didn’t give our advisors a lot of flexibility with their customers,” says Gedeon.
To alleviate some of the pressure, the TPI executive team hosted two calls a day for 200 to 300 of its advisors – even on Saturdays and Sundays – to give them a platform to vent and receive supplier policy updates, which the TPI head office team painstakingly gathered and compiled.
“We created a task force and a dedicated web page with all the latest updates from suppliers and information about the coronavirus so that agents had it at their fingertips and didn’t have to look at a thousand places to find it,” says Gedeon.
Having been “on the other side” before – as President and CEO of Air Canada Vacations, as well as CEO of TravelBrands — Gedeon says she can certainly appreciate the turbulence that suppliers had to deal with, too.
“I don’t blame the suppliers. How could they give us information when they themselves were working blindly? They have done a very good job in trying to navigate this uncertainty and the magnitude of the bookings and cancellations they had to deal with,” she says.
Don’t go silent, stay relevant, better yourself
Now that the immediate crisis of dealing with an onslaught of cancellations and working tirelessly to bring clients home has somewhat cooled, Gedeon has this advice for travel advisors: don’t go silent, stay relevant and better yourself.
TPI now holds a call daily with its members, where the first half is filled with lighthearted fun featuring dancing, singing, karaoke, even an upcoming TPI’s Got Talent spinoff to boost the mood and keep agents motivated.
Then, the second half of the call is filled with a training session or a guest speaker series featuring experts in the fields of mental health, law, finance, social media and more.
“The biggest challenge we’ve had for years now is that advisors don’t have time to learn because they’re so busy. Now is the perfect time for them to hone in on their training,” says Gedeon.
Gedeon is also exhorting agents to continue their marketing efforts.
“We are pushing our advisors to keep advertising. The biggest thing is we keep telling them: do not go silent,” she says.
This is because, as many travel industry executives and observers have pointed out, travel will rebound as it has from many other crises in the past. And Gedeon echoes this outlook of better days to come.
“I know we say this a lot but this, too, will pass. Our industry is a very susceptible one. Someone farts in Zimbabwe and travel is impacted,” Gedeon says. “The biggest piece of advice I have is educate yourself. Better yourself so that when the time comes, you are ready.”
And that time may come sooner rather than later. Gedeon says five TPI advisors have secured new bookings for future travel — from a river cruise for JAN 2021 to a Beaches Turks & Caicos vacation in DEC 2020.
“We’re obviously not seeing bookings as much as we normally would, but we are happily surprised that we’re still seeing bookings at all. That is what’s giving everybody a ray of hope,” she says.
A growing family
TPI has also grown its membership by five new advisors within the past week – three joining from brick and mortars and two from another host.
“Of all the things I thought could occur, that was not one I expected,” says Gedeon. “I was very pleasantly surprised.”
Posted in Open Jaw on April 3, 2020