Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Set aside “pandemic” for a moment and consider the other P word that has become ubiquitous in 2020, especially in the travel industry: Pivot.

With revenues at historically low levels, agencies have been forced to get creative with the services they offer and how they do business.

Take, for instance, Foremost Travel & Tours in Chicago, which launched a new business this summer, Agency Backup. Other agencies can outsource business functions to the team at Foremost, which is experienced in leisure and corporate bookings, accounting, marketing, social media and maintaining servers and websites.

Host agencies that don’t sell travel in-house, and solely support their independent contractors, have also had to navigate this new landscape.

Gifted Travel Network (GTN) had a problem most people with children can empathize with: Six employees with school-age children dealing with working, and de facto teaching, from home.

Co-founder and chief sales officer Vanessa McGovern is one of those employees, she said during the host’s virtual conference last week. By the time August came around, she and GTN’s other parent-employees were facing the daunting task of a return to school. It also meant they would inevitably have to shift some focus from GTN to their children, meaning less support for the network. 

And it’s a network that, despite the pandemic, has grown in 2020. McGovern said 122 members were onboarded this year, for a total of 327.

So, like others, GTN got creative. The host agency hired a nanny who has been going from house to house to give GTN’s employees time to focus on work.

Then there’s Embark Beyond founder Jack Ezon. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to call Ezon the master of the pivot in 2020.

From helping employees focus on education, to adjusting marketing on the fly, to setting up summer camps and worldly home-school activities, Embark has pivoted time and again this year.

His latest initiative, launched this month, is a Daycations program.

“It’s Embark’s solution for people yearning to explore but hesitant to spend the night away from home,” Ezon said.

Embark has partnered with Tradewinds Aviation for the initiative. Clients get their own private jet for the day, and enjoy a full trip, but return home in the evening.

Right now, the focus is on fall foliage in the Northeast, Ezon said. Rates start at $4,850 for four people. Embark crafts the itineraries, which include culinary experiences and activities. Already, Ezon said, one client has used the Daycation to execute a unique marriage proposal.

Soon, Daycations will begin departing from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Miami. 

Additionally, Embark is offering scenic flights to nowhere, starting at $2,500 an hour.

That’s a pivot that’s also another important P word -- profitable.

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