The Monday Minute is a weekly feature at PAX dedicated to highlighting the movers, shakers, leaders and rule-breakers in Canada's travel agent community. Wanna be profiled? Wanna nominate someone? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Name: Heather Hild
Business: Pay It Forward Travel (TPI)
Where do you live? Kelowna, BC
How long have you been a travel agent? 7 Years
What is your specialty? Family Travel (Disney, adventure, all-inclusive, cruise), sustainable travel (eco tourism, local economy building, humanitarian) and destination weddings
What lessons has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
This pandemic has taught me the worth of a travel agent (TA) and my personal service to my clients. Before I was a TA, I appreciated the value of service, time, knowledge and support of a TA should something go seriously wrong on my trip (like a pandemic). I was actually in Chile during the 2007 earthquake (7.7 Mw) that crushed airports and cities and without my travel agent I am not sure how I would have make it home safely and quickly.
Pre-COVID, the value of a TA seemed to waiver with every "good deal" online. Consumers might not know that TA’s are able to access said "good deals" (and sometimes better) through our connections with diverse travel partners. In addition, we offer support and added value to vacations. Post-COVID, I will be providing my clients with the same high-level concierge-style service that I have in the past, while adding the value and knowledge of all the updated health and wellness initiatives and polices from partners, including their responsibilities and new travel procedures.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
Working day and night, literally, with no compensation, while quarantined with three kids at home (their Dad was out of the home working in an essential service role), getting my clients home safely from destination, helping others who needed to get home quickly and safely and cancelling all my client files between March to present. All the while paying back all commissions earned this year so my clients can get their refunds.
What challenges, do you think, lie ahead as the travel economy gradually re-opens?
Over the past few months, the phrase "during these unprecedented times" has been used in basically every communication in every industry, but the reality is that this is now a precedented time and moving forward with future outbreaks, COVID-related or not, there is a precedent that could have a positive or negative impact again on a global scale.
The challenge moving forward is to take the principles of what was learned from COVID-19 (and other natural disasters, terrorism and viruses) and implement them on an individual, local and international level by understanding that we are all responsible for our actions to make the world (and travel) safer and more sustainable. Specifically within the travel industry, I think the two main challenges in the near future will be around trip interruption and medical insurance, as well as the self-quarantine upon return and finding work from home options. If these issues had a meaningful solution, I believe that more people would be travelling right now.
Tell us about one good thing that has come out of this situation?
Through the vast network of social media, I was connected to an elderly couple that were on a long stay in Portugal. They were scared, nervous and stressed about the rising COVI19 outbreak in Spain and the quick closing of the boarders. I worked with them for 24 hours (literally day and night) to find a one way ticket home that worked with their timing to transfer to the nearest airport, that was claimable with their insurance (thankfully they had a good trip interruption policy) and on a plane within the next 24 hours. I did not earn a commission and did not charge a service fee as I felt that this was my duty as a human and a travel agent to help people who are stranded with no direct support to get home safely. This was a unique experience as I stayed connected to my new clients with every take off and arrival and was updated at each layover during their journey home. I didn't sleep until I received that final message that they were home safely in their province of Alberta. I was proud to be a travel agent this day as I was able to help someone in a time of need.
What does the travel industry need to do to restore consumer confidence?
The travel industry needs to lead from the front: as professional travel agents we need to get out, explore the world and share our stories. We need to be the leaders, advocates and knowledge-sharers of the new travel post-COVID. Travellers are nervous, rightfully so, about how the new travel process works and have a hard time connecting to the new reality without being able to experience it directly.
In-destination travel partners are doing an incredibly creative and valuable job with new ways of social distancing, sanitation and other health and safety protocols to best protect guests. The biggest challenge is getting to destination. With more safe travel outcomes from the airlines/airports around the world, a more streamlined process of screening and flight protocol and travel leaders sharing their positive experiences, the confidence will grow. I am excited to book a trip and personally share my experience with my clients from departure to return!
What other travel trends do you think may emerge from this situation?
Sustainable travel in its entirety - economic, environmental, social. We are seeing the negative impact that undertourism is having on various communities around the world, including our own. We have been given the gift to reframe our mindsets to make better choices when it comes to travel. Choices that create value and impact on economic, environmental and social levels in the communities we visit.
Another trend I foresee is that consumers are going to start aligning with travel companies they believe in and that align with their personal beliefs versus the best deal.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling during this tough time?
Fall in love with the dream of travel and all the wonders of the world again. Redefine your business, find your passion in travel and build your business around that. Know your worth and invest in personal and professional development to become more confident and valuable to your clients.
When border restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you travelling first?
With my family, I want to do the Disney cruise. With my Sisterhood of the Travelling Mom's group, I am working on a bubble group trip to Greece or Egypt. I would also like to plan an all-inclusive adults-only trip with my hubby!