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Name: Caitlin Lajeunesse
Business: Vacations by Caitlin - Independent by Flight Centre
Where do you live: Cambridge, Ontario
How long have you been a travel agent: 14 years
What is your specialty: Caribbean and Mexico - premium beach vacations
What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
Working through the pandemic has taught me that we are an incredibly unique and resilient bunch! Our entire industry was flipped upside down in a matter of days. We spent hundreds of hours on hold with airlines and suppliers not only without being paid but actually losing money on cancellations. We did this and continue to do this because of the strong dedication we have to our clients.
This time in business has also taught me that a positive outlook and remaining focused on the future is essential.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
The pandemic affected our direct business so suddenly, that was very difficult. Airline and supplier policies changing frequently have also been difficult, but the constant communication from airlines, suppliers, BDMs and tourist boards has been invaluable. It's also been extremely challenging to navigate through this uncertain time in business and has been important to try and find the appropriate tone to market travel and communicate with clients while still being respectful of the global crisis we are in.
What challenges lie ahead as the travel economy gradually re-opens?
Client confidence will be key to the future of travel. I know I need to put the work in now to make sure I am completely up to date on safety protocols, entry requirements, and new procedures at the properties I sell. When the time is right I will personally be going down to experience the new normal of resort vacations. Being able to share my first-hand experience will be key to my client's confidence.
What is one good thing that has come out of this situation?
The value of a professional travel advisor has never been stronger, and with that, the opportunity to change the way we do business is there.
Personally, I will be charging a professional fee that reflects the service I provide. This situation has given me the time to create a clear path of what I want to be doing, how I am going to do it, and who I want to be doing it with. I have also launched a mentorship program to share my experience and knowledge with new or existing advisors to help get them ready for the next chapter of life in travel.
What does the travel industry need to do restore consumer confidence?
Restricting travel from COVID-19 hot spots, or implementing stronger entry requirements for those traveling from these areas would allow more confidence for Canadian travellers as the world opens back up. Flexible terms and conditions from suppliers will also help with consumer confidence.
What other travel trends do you think may emerge from this situation?
I think travellers will be focused on quality over price! No longer will consumers be looking for the 'cheapest' vacation, they will be looking for the best they can afford. Clients will also be looking to us as the experts to recommend safe resorts.
Small group travel will also be popular. I love the idea of vacationing with your 'bubble'. People have also realized the gift of time, and that it can be taken away suddenly. I have noticed a surge in bucket list inquires. Clients are ready to start planning that once in a lifetime vacation, or big family getaway.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling during this tough time?
As difficult as it is sometimes, try and stay positive. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and when business is back it will be better than ever. There are countless training sessions being offered right now, take in as much as you can. Invest in yourself and your business now so that you are ready for the boom, because it's coming!
I love the quote: The comeback is always stronger than the setback.
When border restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you traveling first?
I have three trips to take once it's safe and responsible to go: Beaches Turks and Caicos with my family, Sanctuary Cap Cana with my husband, and a girls trip to be planned in Bahamas! I dream of that first moment boarding the plane. I'm sure tears of happiness will be flowing!
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