News & Media

Corona Virus And What We Have Learnt So Far

By Martin Rockman, Founder & Director at VMR Travel
14 Apr 2020

COVID-19 Taught Us An Important Lesson

A warm welcome to all our clients, partners and friends from all of us at VMR Travel.

We hope you are safe and healthy and are coping well during these challenging times.

Throughout the last two months we have seen the world go from bad to worse with travel — both leisure and corporate — taking an unprecedented hit the industry has not seen this side of 9/11. Everyone has seen horror stories in social and mass media of call hold times to online travel agencies, airlines or cruise lines maxing out at 3-4 hours, oftentimes only to be disconnected. Customers are supposed to be traveling shortly but are unable to get a hold of anyone to cancel their arrangements for a refund or travel voucher.

Social media outreach to online agencies and airlines has proven effective to an extent, but how many travellers really know to utilize Twitter and Facebook for those purposes?

If there is one thing we have learned from the recent COVID19 outbreak it is the undeniable value of a travel agent.

While Online Booking Tools (OBTs) and online agencies have their own market value they have not taken over the travel world quite yet. In fact, even during the recent wave of consolidation, TMCs and corporate travel agents are still here in large numbers and contrary to popular belief, they have not only retained their client base but also seen significant growth in recent years.

That is, until now. The steep decline in sales over the last couple of weeks is staggering and the cancellations are even worse. However we are still doing everything we can for our clients, regardless of the circumstances. Arguably there is a common misconception out there that travel agents are too expensive and not competitive. It is thought that our (high) fees can be avoided by taking advantage of online booking tools or agencies and large market wholesalers.  The fact of the matter is that we generally do not charge high added fees as we generate commission from suppliers or receive overrides from airlines.

As a business travel agency we are the middleman between clients and suppliers providing a highly customized and wide ranging personal service. We assign designated agents to you and they are who you work with, from trip conception to arriving back at your home airport. We pride ourselves on the high quality service that only we can provide and that OBTs just cannot and more importantly do not want to deliver. Their purpose is to cut service to a minimum and thus to save money.

However in times like the present having the support of a TMC and a dedicated team of agents has proven important more important than ever before as we have provided effective crisis management, something that no online tool was ever designed to.

With tools like International SOS in place and the ability to run checks on all active bookings and passengers at any time we are virtually online around the clock. We are connected to our customers directly and all lines of communication are open – email, phone, WhatsApp or Twitter – we are never far from you. Together we have worked until the last passenger was safe and our team even succesfully arranged a last minute relocation to Hong Kong.

Through us, you, our clients received clarity and peace of mind in times of mass confusion.

So how did we do it? Imagine your business trips all booked and then Corona hit. Management decided no member of staff should travel and all arrangements were to be cancelled, everyone was to return to their home countries. Travel managers contacted us, emails were flying, phone calls made and soon they were discussing options with the travel team. We advised you about your options, provided you with updates from hotels and airlines and gave you guidance based on which you were able to make decisions. While we handled the communication with airlines and hotels and stayed in touch with your travellers you were able to focus on your business. We kept your tickets and vouchers on file and once you are ready to travel again we will handle it on your behalf.

Unfortunately not everyone had the support of a dedicated agent and a large organisation behind them. We know of many business travellers that tried for hours and days to get through to their online agencies for support. Sometimes we could help out but in most cases these travellers were on their own. When they finally got through they had to fight their own cases, mostly ending up with a voucher that required them to call again and once again speak to a complete stranger. How frustrating an experience that must be!

When there is mass confusion it is vital to have an antidote, to have peace of mind. We all seek protection, for ourselves, our families and our wealth. We need structures in which we can trust, people we can rely on, guidance we can follow.

Most likely the Corona Virus will force the travel industry to undergo a massive change. Similar to the post 9/11 era  the cards will be mixed again, some airlines might not be around anymore, mergers will come, long trusted brands may disappear. Will travel habits change fundamentally? It is to be doubted, we are still very much a face to face society and the desire to meet with your business partners will not be eradicated just like that. Some deals are still done in person, some businesses cannot be conducted remotely and a large clientele will just want to travel purely because they have always done it and it is part of their lifestyle. But maybe the times of low fares will be over, hybrid models will be obsolete and the market will see a distinctive split between low cost and full service. A lot of options may now be on the table and appear  viable.

It is inevitable that we reassess our structures as a society and that will include every part of our lives. The travel industry will be at the forefront of it and while there will be automation, based on an ever evolving technology that will include advanced AI, customer service and the commitment to it may even become more important than ever before.

Business Travel is not going anywhere, it is here to stay – and so are we!

Stay Home & Stay Safe !


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