What TASC Travel Advisors Learned in 2020

Lessons on living and social interaction both taught and learned during the COVID-19 pandemic will keep historians busy for generations. Until those chronicles are penned, we’re left, in the aftermath of a life-changing global health crisis, to gain perspective largely from our own experiences.

For my part, I learned our society is filled with good and selfless people, and with nearly as many people I can only see as uncaring over the fate of human existence and our global brotherhood. I’ve certainly changed my own thoughts about my everyday interactions and the nature of some of my neighbors.

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Yet when it comes to travel, I learned that when faced with desperately trying times, there remains great resilience within the human spirit. That’s evident in the strong post-outbreak wanderlust that’s boosted summer Caribbean travel bookings to unprecedented levels.

At the same time, I believe the pandemic forced nearly every travel industry professional to engage in a deep evaluation of their lives and livelihoods. It seemed we all were left to ponder the true significance, from emotional to economic, of travel in our lives.

Based on what I’ve read recently on the online travel advisor group Travel Agents Selling the Caribbean (TASC), my sentiments are shared.

In a clear nod to the travel shutdowns in effect at the pandemic’s heights, pandemic Kelly Fontenelle, TASC’s CEO, posted the prescient question “What’s the Biggest Lesson Your Learned in 2020?” The responses are quite revealing.

Business Acumen

Some responses cut straight to practical business strategies born of pandemic conditions: “I now put back enough in savings where I could go six months without making a dime in commission because I went three months without anything and then three barely bringing in anything,” said Heather Gausline Tate.

While she acknowledges conditions have improved, Tate remains wary. “Revenge travel has been intense, and I’m grateful,” she said, “but I am better prepared than I was before. I also have cut in half if not more the suppliers I will book with. “

One of the industry’s most experienced and respected advisors, Stephanie Cannon, learned “How critical business finances and knowing how to properly manage money really is. Planning for profitability includes setting aside ample funds for emergencies and taxes. “

Said Alana Wallace Patton, “I send each potential client and email about getting started with me. It explains the four levels of professional packages they can choose from to hire me to work for them. They range from literally one item to unlimited for the year. “

Meanwhile, Helen Prochilo learned to “get rid of bookings that don’t have four figures in commission.”

Street Smarts

A distinct odor of being “burned” by circumstance, or a supplier, or a client, or all three, during pandemic times, appeared to motivate other responses. Using all capital letters, John Walker advised other TASC members to “NEVER BOOK AIRFARE FOR CLIENTS.”

Similarly, Marcie Muensterman learned “to charge a fee before I quote! So glad I implemented that in June of 2020, ”she added. “No fear.”

Advisors indeed confronted fear, from the potential health risks impacting themselves and their clients, to the loss of their livelihoods.

Faced with the highest personal threat levels, some advisors determined to approach the situation boldly. Susanne Griffing Yonts learned “not to tolerate jerks, rude or bullying clients.” Melissa A. Stolz determined to “use suppliers that treat travel agents the best, that value us and that have accountability.”

Travel Advisor
Travel agents save their clients both time and money. (photo via Yuri_Arcurs / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Is This Worth Doing?

Extreme pandemic-imposed challenges posed to travel agency businesses caused some to reflect on the worthiness. Nancy Kamin, a TASC member who identifies herself as a part-time advisor, says she learned “I was smart choosing a career (education) that has a regular, steady income, is essential, and is not dependent on commission. Travel sales is a side job, ‘fun’ money but not ‘pays the bills’ money. “

Another member, responded with an accurate assessment of the contemporary agency profession: “I think that’s true for many, but there are also [advisors] making some nice money, well into six figures. I think a lot of factors go into that. “

Fun Factor

Other advisors preferred to look on the lighter side of things. Tim Kersting, for example, learned “how to use a virtual background.” While both Catherine Ferreri and Laurie Bixler wisely advised “This too shall pass!”

Words to live by.

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