Travel agencies

Travel agencies find ways to navigate complexities of Covid: Travel Weekly

Navigating international travel these days is not for the faint of heart, and to keep clients abreast of ever-changing policies, agencies rely on a dizzying mix of digital resources, creative initiatives and staff specifically dedicated to the cause.

Embark Beyond, for example, strengthened its approach by adding a “Covid expert” to the company’s team earlier this year. The Covid expert, who moved to this post after recently serving as Embark concierge, is responsible for keeping the agency up to date with the latest travel protocols, while responding to more complex Covid rules queries from Embark advisers. .

“As an agency or advisor, you need to think about how you can stay ahead and make the customer’s life easier when it comes to travel, and not give people any excuse not to travel. Said Jack Ezon, founder of Embark.

For travelers who wish to visit or travel through multiple destinations, as well as those traveling with young children not eligible for vaccination, having a Covid expert has proven to be particularly useful, Ezon added.

“She saved our advisers so much time,” he said. “In the beginning, our advisers would spend half an hour or 45 minutes trying to figure out some of these things, when they could sell instead.”

Like many groups of travelers, Embark also used Sherpa, an online platform specializing in travel identification requirements, to keep abreast of various restrictions such as visas, passports, quarantine and Covid test measurements across the world. According to Sherpa’s website, the company collects its information by aggregating data from thousands of sources every day, including official government websites.

While Sherpa is also a go-to resource for Brownell Travel, the Birmingham, Alabama-based company has stepped up its pandemic resolution efforts with a special office to answer questions related to the restrictions. The travel office email account is managed by a team of six people.

Additionally, Brownell has set up several Slack channels focused solely on Covid issues.

“We maintain a Slack workspace for the whole community, with dedicated channels for different topics, including Covid updates and Covid resources,” said Sheri M. Selkirk, COO at Brownell Travel. “So you’ve got the Brownell community of about 200 people seeing your posts, and anyone who can help you be more effective and adapt to your client’s needs at that point, they absolutely jump right in. “

So far, Selkirk said, Brownell’s crowdsourcing solution has yet to leave a single travel restriction question unanswered.

“Everyone in the business is on Slack, from our president, Troy Haas, all the way down,” Selkirk said. “So we can cover all the bases, whether it’s an operational issue, a sales issue or a Covid issue.”

The multi-level approach

Across Internova Travel Group, the strategy for travel restriction updates has also been multi-layered, according to John Rose, risk and security manager for Internova’s Altour division.

In addition to the Sherpa platform, which Internova has been using since September this year, the group has relied on support provided by a company called Exlog Global since August 2020.

“Exlog is able to provide this superior level of support and specializes in this human component,” said Rose.

“Let’s say you are traveling with someone, but the person you are traveling with has a different passport. So if there is a question about this, it may not be clear to the client or the client. advisor, Exlog is able to fix that. “

One-on-one support from an Exlog professional is available by email or phone, with Rose estimating that Internova typically sees “several hundred” questions answered by the Exlog system each week.

If a Covid-related travel dilemma proves to be too difficult or unique for Sherpa or Exlog to resolve, then the issue is escalated to an internal team within the organization.

The tiered approach has “worked really well,” said Rose.

“Being able to provide this level of service is a differentiator that we have within Internova,” he added. “We can’t let an advisor spend eight hours researching 19 different websites and then getting conflicting information because it’s no use to anyone. “

Meanwhile, as international travel continues to intensify, Rose predicts that it will be more important than ever to be able to stay on top of changes in travel protocol.

“The world is opening up again, but it’s going to open up with restrictions and those restrictions aren’t going away anytime soon,” Rose said. “So the demand for tools like Sherpa and other levels of support is likely to grow, and it’s so important to be forward thinking and get solutions. “

At Signature Travel Network, members have access to a paid corporate account on Sherpa, which allows them to create personalized links that can be shared with customers, as well as to embed Sherpa content directly into their websites, e -mails and routes, among others. canals.

Members can also choose to create their own white label version of the Sherpa site.

“Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for a travel counselor today is keeping up with ever-changing border closures, visa needs, Covid protocols, etc.,” said Jean Newman Glock, Managing Director Signature for Communications and Public Affairs.