Comment: Choose industry partners wisely and you can deal with most things

Nothing is impossible when relationships are strong and valued, says Haslemere Travel owner and Aito specialist Travel Agents chair Gemma Antrobus

So much has changed in the travel world over the past two years that I now find it hard to recall just how straightforward booking clients’ travel used to be.

The two years of endless booking changes due to the pandemic, followed by the relentless airline schedule changes and cancellations, have not only changed how we all work and manage our time, but also how our clients feel about their travel plans.

Having got used to being able to chop and change at no cost and at their own will, it’s taking a little time for them to get used to standard booking conditions again. That said, I find the vast majority of clients are now super keen to travel and requests for changes are few and far between, which is excellent.

Sadly, one thing that’s not just occasional are airline schedule changes and cancellations for the coming months. While we are now being given much more time to deal with these amendments than earlier in the year, this doesn’t diminish the extra work involved to try to sort out what are often complicated itineraries.

Valued relationships

It’s at times like these I am eternally grateful for the strong relationships I have built up over the years with my small, independent tour operator partners, the majority of whom are Aito members.

The value of these relationships cannot be understated. Having the personal mobile of the MD or a senior member of their team – someone who will respond at all hours of the day and night and treat your clients’ situation with the same care and concern that you do – is priceless.

Nothing is impossible if the relationship is strong and valued

I have always believed that my tour operator partners are an extension of my own team and I even discuss this with clients. I choose my partners very carefully, because the quality of what they deliver reflects directly on me, whether this is when things are going well or when they are not going to plan. I also review our partnerships every year; this is never based on commercial terms but always on the quality of service and delivery for the client.

Top of my criteria at the moment are call wait times and documentation. As we all now operate smaller and leaner businesses, I simply do not have time to hang on the phone for one, two or three hours for a quote or an amendment. It breaks my heart when I read on social media about other agents suffering this predicament.

Lazy service

Documentation is a challenge for me too.

The world changed in March 2020 and, for the past few years, it has been necessary to provide everything to clients via email. They understood this and, due to the great many restrictions in life, it made sense, but we are now past this phase.

It is lazy and simply a cost-cutting exercise on the part of the supplier if all documentation is still provided solely by email as we near the end of 2022.

Clients are spending more and more on travel, often because they have to, rather than wish to do so. To provide solely an email, which they must print, is not acceptable. If documents are sent by email as standard, there should always be the facility and time to request these in physical format too.

Working with smaller, more-specialist and independent companies means you can discuss exactly what you and your client expect, and you can work together to achieve this. Nothing is impossible if the relationship is strong and valued.

I doubt we will ever go back to pre-Covid times, where schedule changes or cancellations are few and far between. But what I do know is that, with the right people and companies in my corner, I can deal with just about anything.

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