The “Fun” Job of Being a Travel Adviser Amidst Coronavirus
I’m a travel adviser. In a nutshell that means that I book trips for people who don’t want to spend hours doing research themselves, or deal with shady on-line booking operators (like bookit. com which just went under and took everyone’s money). I’ve been doing it for 27 years and have built a good, loyal clientele. People know that I offer value for my services, that I’m honest with my advice and opinions (sometimes brutally so), and that I’m their advocate. I like to think that when you do a good job for people you become popular. Sometimes popularity is a double-edged sword because I cursed the days when I was slammed with 12-14 hour workdays, which were very frequent. Clients know they can usually reach me at all hours, so it's not unusual for me to answer texts and emails at 11:00 p.m. Just ask them.
There’s a misconception about what I do. You see, I don’t just push buttons and rates magically appear. There are hours of research. I spend time getting to know my clients and asking qualifying questions to make sure the vacation “fits”. I have to know which wholesaler, consolidator or tour operator offers what they need and that takes time to suss them out and get rates. I spend so much time on hold that I’ve learned to do three things at once with a phone stuck to my ear. I’ve spent my “vacations” touring properties, writing notes and reviews, meeting sales managers, and taking pictures, all at my own expense and for the purpose of being more valuable to my clients. But the work doesn’t stop when I make the booking. I still have to be available when clients have questions or need something. They may want to upgrade, change a room type, add someone to the reservation, or have a special request. I give recommendations on tours and restaurants, packing tips, and required travel documentation, just to name a few. I email resorts prior to their arrival. I follow up with copies of invoices, insurance options, and reminders for final payment, online check in, and finally, sending documents. I am “on” 24/7 until they complete travel. And that’s the easy part because there’s always the possibility that something will go wrong, like delayed, missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, missed transfers, hurricanes, wrong room type, emergencies, lost documents, an expired passport, or someone just being unhappy about something. It’s not unusual for me to take calls in the middle of the night.
When people tell me that I have such a fun job, they have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. When people say that it looks so easy, that’s because I make it look easy since it’s supposed to be when they call me. They don’t see the struggle I’m having when airline schedules don’t cooperate, or when a rate changes in minutes. They have no idea the challenge of dealing with a group when everyone wants something different, has different expectations and it becomes an exercise in herding chickens. When they say I’m so lucky because I get to travel for free, I know they’ve been drinking the propaganda kool-aid. Here I am 27 years later and I’m still waiting for that free trip! So no, we do not travel for free. I’m unaware of any airline that will so much as give a reduced fare to us mere mortals.
I get paid from wholesalers and consolidators, which includes every cruise line, hotel chain, and tour operator, and at no cost to my clients’ bottom line. But, here’s the kicker: I don’t get paid until travel is complete. If people don’t book with me, or if they cancel their trip, I’ve spent literally hours and hours of my time working on it and I won’t get a dime. I like to eat like everyone else, so the sting is real.
So, what has it been like being in this business since coronavirus? I've been an adviser during natural disasters, wars, and other major diseases and never have I experienced anything this devastating to my industry. In the past four weeks I have cancelled and changed over 170 people’s bookings. I have lost revenue of over $250,000 in bookings for my company because of closed resorts and borders, cancelled flights and travel bans. Those are just my cancelled bookings because I’m not counting what my agents who work for me have lost. To add insult to injury, I am now working for free. Although I’m not being paid, I still have to spend hours servicing bookings by cancelling or changing them, and fighting to get my clients protected with either refunds or vouchers. I’m also dealing with constantly changing policies of the airlines and wholesalers due to the fluidity of the situation, all while trying to reassure clients. When Carnival announced that they were cancelling sailings for May, I was on hold with them several times for more than two hours each time. Again, if people aren’t traveling, I’m not compensated. The lengths I’m having to go to and the struggles that I’m having with airlines and tour operators makes it depressing for me to go to work every day. Happiness is booking clients on a highly anticipated trip. It’s a win-win. But now each day brings new cancellations and new losses. Since I am my clients’ best advocate, and my primary concern is to protect them, my job is to do what’s in their best interests.
Am I making new bookings? I’m making a few, and for those that have shown faith in tourism and in me as their adviser, I thank them because right now they are my salvation to sanity. For those that have been kind and patient and have expressed concern about my welfare, I can’t thank them enough. They are like a light in this darkness. And when I return to those 12-14 hours days of pulling my hair out and meeting myself coming and going (and I believe that I will), I promise not to complain.
But hey, for anyone that still has the illusion that this is a fun job, my door is open. Come on over and sit with me in my office for a week. I’ll let you decipher airline policies, sit on hold, talk with unhappy clients, all for the fantastic salary of zero. And when you have had a gut-full and look at me like I'm crazy for doing this, I'll try not to say "I told you so."
With that being said, I realize that there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Things may always be different from what they were, but we will rise above the challenge and the world will once again be before us, waiting for us, expecting us. And we will once again answer its call to come and explore. We will be ready to leave the prisons of our homes and search for new escapes. When that happens, I will be there waiting to help my faithful clients and my new clients, doing what I still love to do best.