Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

From constant communication to Covid-19 waivers, the topics discussed at the 11th annual Professional Association of Travel Hosts Symposium were many and varied, but all offered some practical advice for travel advisors and suppliers alike when it comes to navigating the industry now and in the future.

The PATH Symposium was held in late July. This was the first year it was virtual.

"We were all determined not to let this year go by," said Anita Pagliasso, president of PATH's board of directors and vice president of industry relations at the KHM Travel Group.

The meeting drew about 90 attendees representing host agencies and suppliers. Registration fees were donated to ASTA and the California Coalition of Travel Organizations.

A large part of the symposium was dedicated to tackling questions like how can advisors most effectively communicate with suppliers, or what resources could be recommended to advisors to keep their clients informed about changing situations between booking and the time of travel. Attendees were split into eight groups to discuss the questions, then reported back to the entire meeting with their findings. The groups consisted of a mix of host agency representatives and supplier representatives.

Here were some of my biggest takeaways from listening to the discussions, both in the breakout groups and among all meeting attendees.

Engagement from business development managers remains strong, even though many companies have had to reduce their workforces. Virtual visits are common, with many BDMs getting involved in more creative ways, like Facebook Live shows with agencies while cooking or hosting a wine tasting. Creativity has become particularly important when it comes to client engagement.

The most successful advisors are those who have been reaching out to their clients proactively and consistently throughout the pandemic. Some are using things like weekly videos to give clients general updates on what's going on in the industry.

It's important for suppliers to communicate any changes to travel advisors before the news is released to consumers. That way, the advisors can be proactive, and they don't run the risk of their travelers hearing the news from the supplier first. Some suppliers already have policies in place to ensure advisors get the news first; for instance, AmaWaterways is communicating changes to advisors three days before public announcements.

Policies surrounding future cruise credits are changing frequently. Advisors are encouraged to visit their host agency and/or consortium's internal resources for them to find changes and stay up to date on them.

Suppliers were encouraged to clearly post all their refund policies, including relevant date ranges. They were also encouraged to be honest about refunds. For instance, if they have a 90-day refund policy in place and they find they can't meet that deadline, they need to be clear about it. Advisors were urged to try to keep their clients from contacting the supplier directly about refunds, which could further clog the process.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the sales process. Going forward, it will be more about selling confidence in travel and explaining safety measures that have been put in place to keep travelers safe. Disclosures will be important, too; for instance, what happens if someone falls ill on a cruise? Agencies should carefully use waivers to release the agency from liability if a client contracts the virus on a trip. Travel Weekly's Legal Briefs columnist, industry attorney Mark Pestronk, has created a model Covid-19 disclaimer and release agreement available on his website.

When it comes to building future bookings, advisors should keep in touch with clients and keep them engaged and dreaming about travel. Many suggested virtual events, ranging from webinars to virtual cruise nights and more.

Communication between suppliers and advisors is key. There have been some bumps in the road since March, but both sides are putting processes in place to keep advisors, and their clients, better informed.

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