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Name: Dave Heron
Business: Pace Setter Travel & Tours (1995) Inc.
Where do you live? Okotoks, Alberta
How long have you been a travel advisor? Business opened in 1995
What is your specialty? Safaris and other off-the-beaten-path experiences
What has the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about yourself and the travel industry?
In normal times, the relationship between the various interwoven components of our industry seemed to work remarkably well – until they didn’t. We took for granted the ease at which travel professionals navigated the labyrinth and it’s perils right up until mid-March when the learning curve climbed steeper than an F-18.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
Without an encyclopedia of precedents to refer to, pretty much every file in play had to be reverse engineered in order to get back to a starting point from which we could commence diagnosis and remedial action. At the start, the major headaches seemed to occur late in the evening and across multiple time zones and getting in touch with various suppliers whose staffing levels were diminishing by the hour was a challenge to put it bluntly.
What challenges lie ahead as the travel economy gradually re-opens?
I think there’s going to be some significant collateral damage to the supply chain – from carriers to tour operators to cruise lines etc. which will certainly throw a wrench into the works especially if one of the aforementioned has a plethora of future travel credits sitting out there in the marketplace. There’s also going to be a fine line between a provider pricing a product out that generates some level of profitability in tandem with steep reductions in demand, along with ensuring that a necessitated price increase doesn’t overly deter the would be traveller.*
What does the travel industry need to do restore consumer confidence?
I suspect a lot of that hinges on how Covid-19 continues to develop over the next few months. While Canada seems to have managed any type of explosive rates of infection lately, the same cannot necessarily be said of all destinations that travellers have historically pined for. Until a treatment and then a proven vaccine is in place, the general public is probably not going to be quick to jump into non refundable product that should the situation change abruptly, would see them in possession of another barrage of vouchers or worse yet stranded at destination with no way to quickly return home.
I’m encouraged by the initiatives starting to emerge from suppliers who’ve enacted Travel With Confidence programs although time will tell how well these programs will translate into trips taken.
What other travel trends do you think may emerge from the COVID-19 crisis?
Smaller is better will likely be the type of product that initially draws people back into the game. From cruise ships to resorts to land based tours – I think the 6,000 room resorts, 5,000 passenger cruise ships and packed motor-coach tours will have a longer recovery time than will the more scaled down intimate product types. More personalized FIT programs will likely also appeal to a broader spectrum than was the case pre-Covid.*
What's one good thing that has come out of this situation?
As an industry, we’re now paying far more attention to the “what could possibly go wrong” aspect than we did prior to falling into the abyss. From cleanliness to personal space requirements to “escape plans” to proper insurance coverage – these are areas a lot of seasoned travellers glossed over in the past but are seriously paying attention to now.
What advice do you have for travel advisors who are struggling during this tough time?
Look at this as the 'storm before the calm' – there’s no question it’s disastrous for every participant in the travel and tourism industry at the moment but as we emerge, the true value of a travel advisor will be a lot more enhanced to the consumer than it was before everything hit the fan. The allure of cheapcheap.com will, I believe – diminish significantly amongst the type of traveller that professional and profitable advisors want to have in their stable.
When border restrictions are lifted and the risk is low, where are you travelling first?
Definitely have to make up for a cancelled trip to Ireland.
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