Ever-changing global travel restrictions may have a silver lining for travel agents as Australia’s international borders begin to reopen, according to industry veteran Barry Mayo.
It’s no secret that the travel industry has copped a lashing in the public eye over the past year, thanks to mass cancellations and difficult refunds.
But, as we slowly approach the light at the end of the tunnel, travel agents may find a pleasant surprise awaits them.
Mayo, who is chairman of TravelManagers and CT Partners, said the pandemic has resulted in very different experiences between travellers who book directly or with an OTA and those who have a travel agent acting on their behalf.
Even though online bookings can save travellers a few dollars in the short term, when it comes to more difficult booking – especially in the post-lockdown world – Mayo argued it was far more cost-effective and time-saving to have a professional on your side.
“A learning for many travellers… has been the benefit of booking with a live person who is dedicated to their wellbeing and protecting them against all eventualities,” he told Travel Weekly.
“Whether it’s during travel, pre-travel or post-travel, the benefit of dealing with an experienced and knowledgeable travel advisor who knows and understands their client, as opposed to being an anonymous enquirer at the end of a call centre phone or email, was never more pronounced.”
On Friday, the NSW government announced it would scrap quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated international travellers from 1 November, not only bringing forward its expected border reopening date, but also making overseas travel more feasible for both inbound and outbound travellers.
As a result, Qantas has moved its resumption of international flights from 14 November to 1 November in the state.
The rest of Australia is expected to reopen to international travel as each state reaches the 80 per cent vaccinated population target; however, some quarantine restrictions are expected to remain.
“It is highly likely there will be a period of time following the reopening of the international border where changes and updates will be ongoing, as the world opens up and deals with the pandemic at different stages of recovery in various countries,” Mayo said.
“This again is an area where experienced professional travel advisors will add value through reliably delivering this knowledge.”
Although travelling while the world learns how to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic is the most crucial time to have a travel professional on our side, last month consumer advocate Adam Glezer told Travel Weekly that consumers have “very little trust and confidence” in the travel industry right now.
Glezer is calling for greater consumer protection in the travel space, including the introduction of mandatory trust fund accounts for agents.
TravelManagers has always operated using a client trust account, according to Mayo, but tougher industry regulations could have negative consequences for the Australian travel industry.
“The entity responsible for regulation needs in-depth experience and understanding of the industry it is seeking to regulate, and while regulation is generally introduced with good intentions, it can also have unintended consequences,” he said.
“[For example], if the industry is over-regulated, placing burdensome compliance costs to Australian businesses, this could actually drive business offshore directly to suppliers and travel intermediaries that are not bound by Australian Consumer Law.”
Instead, Mayo is encouraging agents to undertake their own analysis of what they have learned over the past 18 months and introduce measures to maintain or re-establish consumer confidence.
“If that analysis indicates that to prosper in the post-COVID environment, they need to provide greater security around client funds then they have the option of implementing a client trust account or some other form of financial security or business practice,” he said.
“Ultimately, the consumer will decide if this is imperative by directing their business to travel intermediaries that do provide a client trust account and other guarantees.”
Featured image source: iStock/Pyrosky