With the pandemic ebbing, all signs point to a major travel resurgence. That good news; however, comes with caveats. Travel advisors are reporting supplier staff shortages, ticketing errors and lack of availability, among other things.
“I’ve had major issues not with just one supplier but with many,” said Tammy Levent of Elite Management Travel Group. “I feel as though throughout the entire shut down, while vendors and tour operators were regrouping, their ticketing agents were discombobulated.”
In one instance, a large tour operator Levent has worked with for years changed its technology platform, she said. “As advisors we could not even log on, we had no way of calling in, support was diminished to hold times of six to eight hours, and that has not gotten any better.”
Prior to the platform change, one of the agent’s operators neglected to issue tickets for Levent’s clients “and therefore they were canceled by the airline – and of course the agent no longer works for this company,” she said.
“The reissued tickets were $500 higher, and they wanted me to pay the difference. I had it all in writing that the tour operator’s agent was indeed told to issue the tickets,” Levent added.
“We went back and forth with my emails for proof of that and I was in the right! I was so aggravated they finally agreed to pay for the difference.”
In another instance, an airline canceled her clients’ flights on Dec. 9 for travel in February. The carrier did not respond to Levent’s queries but “finally sent us a form for the clients to fill out so they can get their refunds,” she said.
“The clients are fuming at us,” Levent said. “We have lost clients as a result of tour operators, hoteliers and vendors not stepping up and taking responsibility for their actions – or they just don’t have the employees.
Jemica Archer of TruBlue Travels said she has also experienced supplier issues. “I am noticing that suppliers seem to be short staffed, or their employees are feeling burned out and overworked, which equals more errors and longer hold wait times.”
For Sarah Klein of Time For Travel, the biggest issue right now is that “demand is overwhelming and certain segments of the industry are not able to handle it well.”
“My specialty is the destination wedding market and we’re experiencing five times the demand of any previous year. I am reaching out to hoteliers’ wedding departments and waiting weeks for a response,” she said.
“Couples who are getting married in Spring/Summer 2022 are desperately trying to plan and finalize their weddings and the hotel wedding teams are dropping the ball on service.
“I’m disappointed in the companies who didn’t prepare better for the comeback. There are exceptions and those are the ones who will come out on top in the next few years.”
James Berglie of Be All Inclusive is also facing issues relating to demand. “Resorts are full, people want to travel, and inventory is in short supply,” he said. “Additionally, we’ve seen instances of resorts adopting the airline’s ‘over-book’ strategies – which I am not a fan of – in which they knowingly oversell a resort knowing that they get a certain percentage of no-shows and cancellations.
“But a few properties are seeing that policy come back to bite them when they are not getting the percentage of no-shows or cancellations they expected.”
Archer noted that the biggest issue she is facing continues to be changing protocols. “Different countries change protocols so frequently and you want to make sure you’re advising your clients of the most recent compliance requirements,” she said.
Another issue facing advisors is “countries that are still insisting on vaccines, tests and travel restrictions,” Berglie said. “Although we’ve seen many lessen these restrictions recently, when it comes to navigating the red tape of travel authorizations, pre-travel testing, proof of vaccine, etc., or choosing a destination where none of that is required, travelers are going the route of least resistance. The locations that have returned to 2019 entry requirements are the locations that are, and have been, thriving.”
In Berglie’s view, “the test requirement to return to the US remains one of the last major hurdles in the battle for the industry to return to normal.”
“I’m hopeful that in the coming months we may see that, and the airline mask mandate taken away as well,” he said.
For Kim Cook of Love to Travel, the risk of testing positive in a destination is still a concern that is causing clients to be hesitant to book right now.
“I think as soon as that restriction is lifted we are going to be busier than ever,” she said. “We just had a client test positive over the weekend, so we had to work to get his flights rebooked and communicate with the resort about his extended stay. It had been a couple of months since that had happened so it was a reminder that it can still happen and cause headaches for our clients – and for us having to make the adjustments.”
Cook also said that rates are rising at popular destinations and resorts. “This is not deterring most of our clients, but it is causing concern for group travel. “With groups, the individuals have different budgets to consider when choosing a location so some are pushing back on the package price.”
Like other advisors, Cook noted that many resorts are sold out for the summer and into the fall. “We are recommending to our clients to book now and not wait for a lower price as it likely won’t happen,” she said.