Wholesalers

“This downtime has really opened our eyes”: GFOB’s Gai Tyrrell on supporting agents (and much, much more)

Huntley Mitchell

Huntley Mitchell

Travel Weekly caught up with Gai Tyrrell, managing director for Australasia of Globus family of brands (GFOB), to find out how the wholesaling giant is navigating its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

How is GFOB navigating these uncharted waters? What safety measures is the company planning to implement in the next phase of its recovery?

We did recognise very early on following the emergence of COVID-19 that country-specific variables, border and other restrictions would make it difficult to deliver our promise to guests – the holiday of their dreams, safely and without disruptions. As a result, we acted early taking a decision to pause our global operations until a time when the world is ready to travel again. Currently, all our tours are suspended until 14 November 2020.

At the same time, we announced a Peace of Mind plan for any of our customers affected by that change, providing the ability to reschedule their trip in 2020, 2021 or 2022, to any destination, with any of our brands and without incurring cancellation fees.

For future bookings, and despite the ongoing uncertainty around international travel, we have introduced a range of new initiatives to ensure travellers can book a holiday risk-free, hassle-free and worry-free.

Our 2021 Peace of Mind Travel Plan is a complimentary package attached to all 2021 bookings, giving travellers the option to move their holiday to any date in 2021 or 2022, to any destination, with any brand and without incurring cancellation fees – so long as the booking is moved before the final payment date.

We have also updated GFOB’s SafetyNet Protection policy. It costs $95 per person and provides our guests ultimate flexibility to cancel without penalty up to 30 days prior to travel, or to amend their holiday up to 24 hours in advance of tour departure.

Globus family of brands’ global health and safety team has also introduced a worldwide assurance program which will protect the health and safety of our guests. It’s a new program with a whole new look at travel protocols and procedures, including reduced ship and tour capacities, mandatory health checks for all staff and guests, new cleaning technologies and increased hands-free facilities. The team will constantly monitor to ensure we offer best practice cleanliness in every aspect of our operations.

Is 15 November still a realistic date for when GFOB will lift its travel suspension? Or does the company expect to extend the suspension?

We hope so, but it is hard to say given the situation is still evolving and travel restrictions still exist in various markets. Right now, we plan to resume operations from 15 November, but we will continue to assess over the coming weeks and months.

Our priority always has been and will be, absolute guest care and satisfaction, and that means the combination of dream holidays and travel experiences with nothing to worry about and absolute safety. That is something we will not compromise on.

Which international destinations will be popular choices among Aussies once they’re allowed to travel again?

Right now, we’re seeing a surge in group bookings for Avalon’s 2021 European trips. We recently announced new itineraries and ports along the Danube, which have been a hit with our guests, and I think people take comfort in the small-group experience river cruising offers.

I also expect destinations closer to home like Thailand, Vietnam and Japan to be popular initially. I had to cancel my first Cosmos tour around Japan when coronavirus hit, so I’m hoping I can reschedule for next year – fingers crossed!

What’s the take-up been like for the recently launched 2021 US itineraries by Globus and Cosmos?

Despite everything that’s happening globally, we’ve received lots of enquiries about our new tours, which is really promising. Clearly, people are still planning ahead, scoping out their next adventures for when the time is right. Our Undiscovered series and US product are always popular, so we expect bookings will start flowing in over the next six months or so as travel restrictions start to loosen.

There’s been a great reaction to our 2021 Peace of Mind Plan and our SafetyNet Protection, which lets our guests book a holiday knowing that they can change or cancel their holiday plans risk-free.

We’re seeing a lot of travel companies pivot to domestic offerings. Is that something GFOB is considering here in Australia?

I wouldn’t rule it out, but we don’t have any immediate plans to introduce domestic itineraries, but we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities. The Australian tourism industry has been hit especially hard this year, first by the bushfires and now with coronavirus, so we’d love to be able to support the industry and encourage our customers to explore their own backyard.

Are there any upcoming initiatives GFOB will be rolling out for travel agents?

This downtime has really opened our eyes to a bunch of ways we can support agents remotely and help them upskill, and we’ve loved finding creative and fun ways to do that.

Recently, we launched a ‘Business Insights’ video series covering topics like digital marketing and social media advertising. While the videos aren’t all-encompassing, they include some of the tips and tricks that we use across the business day-to-day and will hopefully serve as a useful starting point for agents looking to gain new skills. The videos are on our agent portal for anyone who wants to check them out.

Our sales managers have been running virtual training sessions as well, as a way of staying in touch with agents and updating them, for example, on how our new assurance programs work.

Has GFOB been forced to lay off or furlough any staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Initially, we had hoped we wouldn’t have to reduce our team numbers, but with prolonged international border closures and the ongoing uncertainty around travel, like many other travel industry operators, we too have had to farewell some of our team members. We’re one big family at GFOB, so it’s been heartbreaking saying goodbye. But our team is determined to do what we can to help rebuild demand in the industry and to recover jobs as quickly as possible.

For now, however, we all understand that downscaling in these immensely challenging times is a necessity, unfortunately, to ensure the long-term security of our business.

How will the pandemic change travel wholesaling?

The pandemic has already had a huge impact on the structure of the industry, the way companies work and their product offerings, and I think there will be a few lasting changes; many of them positive.

Even though the world is getting used to working remotely and shopping remotely, I expect we’ll also see a resurgence in people booking with agents so they have someone on hand to help them, should anything go wrong. People will also be looking for expert advice and a different level of information about the places they plan to visit.

Increased health and safety measures will be mandatory across the industry and tour operators will need to communicate clearly what they are doing to protect their guests’ health and happiness. It will be vital information for travellers and for travel agents selling travel. At GFOB, our global health and safety team will continue to monitor and ensure we have best practice protocols and procedures in place.

From the customers’ perspective, flexibility will be everything moving forward. People want to know that if they book a holiday, they have the freedom to change or cancel their booking risk-free. Companies like GFOB have policies in place that make it easy for customers to book a holiday in advance, with peace of mind to change their plans. Our promise has always been to provide a stress-free holiday from beginning to end, and now we have taken this a step further, eliminating any risk from the time of booking.

It’s been heartwarming to see the industry come together over the past few months. The support, kindness and compassion people have shown each other has been really touching. Relationships, empathy and trust are going to be key to rebuilding post-coronavirus and we’ve already started laying the groundwork, which is amazing to see.

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