No-one could have expected the COVID-19 crisis to progress at the speed it did. One minute there were a few cases in Italy and the next we had a short window of time to return travellers to New Zealand. While we were busy doing that, transit borders were closing mid-flight and Worldwide travel was seemingly imploding at record pace.
But a traveller might as well book their own travel online if they’re not going to have their agent put in the hard work for them, right? Well that’s what I think anyway.
As a travel agent our job extends beyond creating a brilliant holiday and booking with the best available price. Our job is also to ensure the travel goes without a hitch, and when unforeseen situations arise, we jump in and rectify with little or no fuss to the traveller. During the COVID-19 crisis this ethos became particularly paramount.
Immediately when the COVID-19 crisis struck we were monitoring risk to our customers, around the clock, and communicating regularly with them. We wanted to ensure that if their upcoming travel plans were compromised, we could act quick so as to achieve the maximum compensation or minimal disruption for them.
In some cases, we were communicating a simple “…just letting you know that at this stage there are no changes to your upcoming trip and we are monitoring closely in case of changes”. Some cases the communication was much more specific. We believe a customer shouldn’t be left wondering what is happening; it’s our job to put travellers at ease.
As it happened, a lot of bookings needed changing. Well that’s inevitable when our country was in lock down for minimum 4 weeks and all borders closed, right?
But while lots of changes occurred, positive outcomes happened too.
For our honeymooners, we were thrilled to negotiate a refund on a non-refundable room they had booked. Saving such a special occasion from gloom was a wonderful moment and we can’t wait to rebook a perfect honeymoon once we are able.
Our family of 4 heading away to Japan were awarded a full credit on their flights with reasonable rebooking terms. No lengthy calls to airlines, being placed on hold, or annoying waiting games for them in the process.
One major success was in bringing a traveller home from the Philippines. Our traveller wasn’t aware of the haste that travel was closing in on, as media coverage was limited where she was. Unaware she had just 3 flights left to make it home and two of those were selling fares upward of NZD $5000, she arrived having been the final flight allowed to transit through Hong Kong and just 4 hours on her side to transit Australia. All the while we were watching border restrictions and her flights 24 hours to ensure we were able to make urgent amendments if needed, minimising disruption to her.
As a travel agent we have access to the booking platforms that airlines work with. That means that when a schedule change happens we are able to jump in and amend the booking ourselves. For those booking direct with the airline, there is often a longer phone queue competing with all other affected passengers.
We’d like to think that there won’t ever be such pandemonium in the travel industry, but at least we know that no matter what changes happen to our customers; we’re ready to make the process easy for them.