Travelweek connected with Patel to get her unique perspective on the industry for our 50th anniversary interview series. While Patel’s been a travel advisor for only a few years, she’s faced challenges that were unthinkable for everyone in the industry, including veterans with decades of experience.
“Even though I’ve been in the industry for only five short years (I jokingly like to say it’s really only been three years, because there was no travel to sell for at least two years!) it has been a whirlwind in terms of what has changed when I first got into this industry compared to what it is like right now,” says Patel.
“I started as a travel consultant in 2018, and I came into this industry with absolutely no background or knowledge except from my own personal travel experiences. It was definitely an arduous task trying to find just the right fit for a host agency (a term I didn’t even know about before I entered this industry) based on my lack of experience and the amount of support I needed to succeed. Eventually, I joined The Travel Agent Next Door, and it was the best decision I made for my new career.
“There were a lot of challenges in the beginning and I thought I had to know everything about all suppliers and what products they offered before I had to start booking trips for clients. But with time and a few bookings, everything fell into place and eventually I became more comfortable with not needing to know everything to get clients and do bookings.
“Over these last few years, it made me realize that the travel industry is fluid so there will always be new things to learn, regardless if you are a rookie or a seasoned advisor. And the travel community in general is such a great resource for finding information. Whether or not you work with the same agency, the peer-to-peer support is just amazing.
“Of course, we all know that once the pandemic hit, everything completely changed for the travel industry. Travel didn’t really restart until late 2021 and into early 2022 and with so much time passed, I felt like I had to re-learn everything all over again and also learn a lot of new really important things.
“It was so stressful booking travel [during the pandemic], compared to when I first started, when all we had to really know about were visa entry requirements and the usual government travel advisories for travel insurance coverage. Booking a trip [in the last few years], even if it was just a flight, was no longer a simple task. We had to keep up with the latest COVID entry requirements, re-visit government lists that indicated which residents from which countries were allowed to come in and which weren’t, what type of test was needed to enter and what resources to use that gave the most accurate and up-to-date information that was literally changing by the day at times.
“Thankfully, my clients, in general, were not ready to travel until the rules started to stabilize in early 2022, so that made the task on my end easier. Any travel I did book was for myself and it was stressful making sure that I had all the correct information.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone not using a travel advisor for travel during that time because there was so much to know before you left. Using a travel advisor was important more than ever.
“From a sales perspective, my bookings have greatly increased due to the demand of ‘revenge travel’ and that’s really helped my business take off compared to what it was back in 2018.
“When I first started, I heard about some agents charging service fees for bookings, but it wasn’t common practice among most agents then. It was challenging at times for me to get new clients, so the thought of charging a service fee didn’t cross my mind, for fear it would scare clients from booking with me and I’d lose potential income.
“But the pandemic changed all that and travel agents saw their true worth when they had to work around the clock to get people home before borders closed and flight cancellations were happening everywhere. We realized how reliant clients were on us for our resources and knowledge and that elevated our importance.
“Since then, I have implemented service fees and I feel it’s going to become the norm within the industry. Nowadays, I hear more and more agents saying they charge fees than those who don’t. That’s a complete 180 degree turn from 2018!
“Another area that has changed since I first started has been offering that contentious product: travel insurance.
“Before, a lot of clients would either brush off the need for travel insurance, or just didn’t see the value in it. Breaking a leg, missing a cruise due to a delayed flight, a visit to the hospital for an infection, etc. were not strong enough ‘what if’ scenarios for clients to purchase travel insurance.
“But when COVID presented itself as a cruel reality of the unknown, clients quickly learned from that tough lesson and I have seen a total change in the perception of travel insurance since.
“I would say over 90% of my clients now either ask for travel insurance before I even mention it, or don’t even think twice about having it added onto their booking.
“We also saw a lot of people lose their jobs in the travel industry during the pandemic and during those dark two years I’m sure many of us questioned whether we made the right decision entering this industry and whether we could ever recover from it.
“But the fact that there were so many agents who were able to ride it through, and come back better than before is incredible. I don’t think anyone of us was prepared for this industry to bounce back the way it has.
“After being cooped up for two years, this comeback just reinforced how much we need travel for our mental health.
“My short career in the travel industry has certainly seen a lot of changes on a global scale but I can confidently say that I made the right decision getting into this industry. I’ve always loved anything related to travel but since I became a travel consultant and discovered how extensive this industry really is, I love it even more. The camaraderie is also very special.
“All of us in this profession have a deep passion for travel and appreciate how much these experiences enrich us as individuals. This sentiment makes the travel industry one of the few industries where everyone you work with shares the same interest on a professional and personal level. It really is a career hard not to love!”
Want to take part in Travelweek’s 50th anniversary celebrations with your own industry memories? Email [email protected] or [email protected]. Images are welcome! Plus, try your luck with our contest, ‘It Happened This Week’, featuring a new headline (and a new chance to win!) every week from Travelweek’s 50 years of travel industry news coverage.