“Never has the value of using a travel professional been so relevant”: Independent by Flight Centre – Travelweek

Canadians are ready to travel, says Christal Bauer, Business Leader Agency Programs for Independent by Flight Centre. “We have seen a steady climb of bookings from our agents since May 2021 and anticipate this to continue in the months to come,” says Bauer in this edition of Take 5.

1. The travel industry is at a bit of a crossroads right now – the advisory against non-essential travel is still in place, but people are interested in booking travel especially for winter 2021 and into 2022. Are booking volumes up, and what’s selling well?

“We have seen a steady climb of bookings from our agents since May 2021 and anticipate this to continue in the months to come. We are seeing a broad range of products being booked so far, families heading south, small group touring, cruises and groups being re-booked. Canadians are ready to travel, and being safe and prepared is top priority for travellers. Never has the value of using a travel professional been so relevant.”

2. What are some ways IFC has helped its members throughout the pandemic? 

“The past 18 months have been a roller coaster for all of us and we recognize the unique challenges faced by our members. There were several initiatives that we immediately put in place to help them with their businesses such as temporarily reducing fees, increasing learning opportunities with suppliers and tourist boards, create a COVID 19 Workplace page giving them easy access to updates from suppliers, on travel restrictions etc. We also were mindful of their mental health and ensured they were able to stay connected with us and each other by organizing virtual socials. A few examples include a pub crawl, a scavenger hunt and a year-end social hosted by Intrepid Travel which saw us learning how to make fresh ceviche and pisco sours with their host live from Peru!”

3. What are you hearing from IFC advisors, especially now the end of the pandemic is in sight, but also with the financial situation for travel agents still quite precarious, especially for home-based agents shut out of grants? 

“After 18 months of dealing with cancellations, refunds, and uncertainty, the phones are ringing again. Clients are ready to travel, but not on their own. They are relying on our agents to provide them with current expert advice to help them navigate through the ever-changing travel landscape post-COVID. We are so proud of our Independent agents and how they’ve handled all the extraordinary challenges throughout this pandemic. Their unwavering commitment to their clients, resilience and pure grit has been incredibly inspiring.

“Not being included in government grants and such is certainly a concern for our ICs. Many of our agents are actively working with ACITA as they educate the public and many politicians on the gaps in current programs and grants. Our Agent Care Team has been able to join them on several calls with MP’s, lending our voice to their cause. In addition, FCTG has been working very closely with ACTA as they continue to advocate for Independent Travel Agents across Canada.”

4. What should agents be prioritizing for the busy months ahead?

“We are encouraging our agents to engage with their clients and position themselves as the travel experts in this post-COVID world. If they haven’t already, reevaluating their management fee strategy is extremely important, so they do not leave their business vulnerable to the financial loss that many agents were confronted with in this pandemic. Travel when you can, take advantage of opportunities our industry partners are offering us, your clients will follow your lead.”

5. What has been IFC’s biggest takeaway / lesson learned from the pandemic?

“The pandemic has allowed IFC to reevaluate our business. We identified what we have done well and where we can improve. Currently we are working on some very exciting technology platforms, marketing initiatives and upcoming in person events. One of the best takeaways that we have seen is in the renewed confidence our IC’s have in their expertise and their commitment to their businesses. They have successfully navigated one of the most difficult periods in the travel industry and are coming out the other side ready to help their clients travel when they are ready. It has also solidified the importance of relationships, between us and our agents as well as our agents and their clients. Excited for the future of our industry.”