Travel agents stay connected with virtual events

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Scenes from Largay Travel’s virtual dance party on March 20. The agency plans to host the event every week.
Scenes from Largay Travel’s virtual dance party on March 20. The agency plans to host the event every week.

When joining an online Zoom meeting hosted by a travel agency, one isn’t usually greeted by the sound of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” 

But that’s exactly what attendees of Largay Travel’s meeting got on Friday, March 20, when the agency hosted its first virtual dance party.

As many across the country have been ordered to shelter in place and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, the typically extroverted travel agency community has turned to the internet for everything from video meetings to peer interactions, to, yes, even virtual dance parties and happy hours.

“Times are tough all around for everyone, and we just have to remember to support each other in any and every way possible,” said Amanda Klimak, the president of Waterbury, Conn.-based Largay. 

Besides, she said, it’s crucial to “emotionally, physically, help each other out.”

Largay’s first virtual dance party was open to everyone, including advisors from Largay and beyond, suppliers and clients. It also drew a fair number of children, cats and dogs among its 81 attendees. Even Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch stopped by with his wife, Jessica Upchurch, Virtuoso’s sustainability ambassador.

“Everybody was so excited to just see everyone else being silly, and it was just nice for 15 minutes for everyone to laugh,” Klimak said.

That was the root from which the idea grew, offering travel advisors, who have been hit 24/7 with an onslaught of concerned clients, travel warnings and a multitude of supplier policy changes, a chance to decompress, even if for just a few minutes.

Largay isn’t just holding dance parties online. The agency’s annual retreat was originally scheduled for this week but was canceled. Now, it will be held fully online on Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3. The agency has also started a “meditation Monday” online event, and it is encouraging advisors to post photos of their favorite souvenirs on social media with the hashtag #souvenirsaturday.

Klimak said it wasn’t difficult to move online, as Largay was used to hosting things such as sales calls on Google Hangouts or Zoom.

“We were already most of the way there” before the coronavirus crisis began, she said. “But what we really started training [our advisors on] was on how do you have client meetings via Zoom? How do you have client events via Zoom? So we’re going to be doing virtual cocktail parties and all sorts of different things.”

Especially at a time when almost everyone is under some sort of order to either shelter in place or remain socially distant from others, video has taken on added importance, Klimak said. 

“I think the phone is great, and having conversations is wonderful, but there is so much more gained when you can look someone in the eye and be able to talk to them,” she said. “What we really found is that the best way to keep people from getting super-depressed or feeling even more isolated is to just use video as much as possible.”

She finds it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the situation that agencies are facing.

“Believe me, we all need to deal with the reality of the situation,” she said. “But we do need to allow ourselves still to be happy at moments and maintain our emotional health, because that’s just as important as our physical health.”

Ensemble Travel Group is also encouraging members to connect online.

The consortium has started a new initiative, #EnsembleStrong, via a private Facebook group for members.

Alexa Wheeler, Ensemble’s brand marketing and communication specialist, said the group is meant to be a way for advisors to talk business as well as to share some more positive things with each other.

“As everyone knows, right now there is a lot of emotion around everything going on with Covid-19, and it’s hard to stay positive, especially in our industry,” Wheeler said “And industry leaders keep saying that it will get better, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. 

“We wanted to just create a movement for our members with, like, a sacred place (so to call it), where they can go for positive advice, positive feedback, inspiration, funny memes,” she said. “Anything that will just help them, whether it’s making their day or advice on what they could do for their own business.”

Wheeler conducted a poll among the group’s members to see what kind of content they were interested in. Most wanted sharable content for their own audiences, followed by positive, industry-related updates, then “just for laughs” content and inspirational content.

After Ensemble canceled several meetings recently, creating a space for members to interact became even more important, she said.

“Unfortunately, that has to be done online now, but as long as they have that space to do it, they seem, so far, to be very appreciative of the efforts,” Wheeler said. “It’s a way that they can get through the difficult times together.”

Tom Ogg, founder and co-owner of TravelProfessional Community.com, said the site has seen an uptick in traffic related to coronavirus. The site is free for advisors, but they are vetted before they gain entrance to the community of around 16,000.

The site houses quite a bit of content, Ogg said, but there is one area agents gravitate to: the forum. It’s the place where advisors can start threads about any number of professional topics. Naturally, a number have been related to coronavirus lately, including discussions about suppliers (who are not permitted on the site) and business survival tactics.

Now more than ever, he said, it’s important for travel advisors to interact with their peers for professional advice and even some fun.

In Klimak’s view, “Our industry right now is under siege, and even if we can’t financially help each other, we can at least emotionally help each other and be kind to one another in this industry. It’s so important.”

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