Happy Canada Day, everyone!
Despite the pandemic and unusual times we are going through we are truly blessed to live and work in Canada. I am reminded of this every day, when I watch the news from around the world and see the struggles facing other countries. We have stable governments, federally and provincially; a diverse economy that is adapting to the present challenges and needs; a great health care system and wonderful opportunities as citizens and as a country.
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Margot (my spouse and tour director for Great Canadian Travel) and I were escorting a group of clients to venture out to the Floe Edge in the community of Naujaat, Nunavut (formerly Repulse Bay and translated as “seagull nesting place”) and to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on the summer solstice – June 21, 2018. Naujaat is considered to be a “traditional” community in that they rely on hunting and fishing for their sustenance.
The Naujaat community has built a wonderful “elders’ retreat” outside of the community. It is away from the hustle and bustle of the community and allows for contemplation, quiet enjoyment of each other’s company and celebrations. Our group was invited into the retreat to experience and learn about drum dancing.
A Qulliq – a traditional, soapstone oil-lamp filled with sealskin oil – was ceremonially lit and placed on a table by a window overlooking the rolling hills and Hudson Bay in the background. It was very calming.
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Last week I wrote about airline schedules and reservations from our Canadian clients’ perspective, this week I’ll tackle it from the viewpoint of our American clients.
Skift is a travel industry investigative journalism online publication. On May 26th, they published a very interesting article that I want to bring to your attention, How Airlines are Generating Revenue on Flights That Will Never Take Off.
“US airlines are selling a lot of flights they have no intention of operating. Consumers should beware.- Brian Sumers, Skift – May 26 2020, 2:30am Read More >
Here in Manitoba the sun is shining, the temperature is improving, and May flowers are popping out. Businesses in Manitoba can open again under the “new normal” rules of maintaining physical distancing, sanitization processes and so on. New cases of Covid-19 here are non-existent and there is a feeling of optimism in the air.
Having been cooped up in our many forms of self-isolation there is an understandable desire to get out, to return to the “old normal” and to travel again. We are seeing an increase in the number of inquiries as to where and how people can travel.
As much as I welcome this increased desire to travel, and I certainly look forward to the day our travel business is running full steam again, this letter is about caution. Today, I’ll focus on this from our Canadian clients’ perspective, next week from that of our American clients’ viewpoint, as regulations are quite different between the two countries. Read More >
We’re past the 2-month mark of the COVID-19 pandemic and things here in our part of the world are beginning to look very positive and hopeful. We know there’s a long way to go before our world opens up fully. But, little by little, we’ll get there.
Our staff continues to be here for our clients, supporting them and guiding them through a myriad of rebooking and rescheduling options and, in some cases, refunds. New bookings are being made for travel in late 2020, in 2021 and even into 2022. Yes, we will travel again!
Most of our clients, and the majority of clients of travel companies around the world, realize that these are unprecedented times and that we find ourselves in a situation none of us could possibly have foreseen. They understand that policies are constantly changing, are not consistent from supplier to supplier, even differing from country to country with the same supplier. And they are aware that our industry has been almost decimated by the global shutdown.
Unfortunately, not all people are understanding of the difficult situation faced by agencies, travel and tourism suppliers. The debate rages on about whether a travel credit versus a refund is fair compensation during these unique times. Those who argue for refunds either don’t consider, or simply don’t care, that their demands could well push a business into bankruptcy. Read More >
The last few weeks have been unusual, there’s no doubt about it!
The travel industry, in general, all but shut down within a matter of days. But, the work for our travel business didn’t disappear, as we had clients who we needed to help get home. And there were lots of future trips to be rescheduled or cancelled. Difficult decisions had to be made as to staffing levels and, after discussions with each staff member individually by phone, many were temporarily laid off. During that time we kept in touch through weekly updates about what was happening in our offices in Winnipeg and Edmonton; news from our suppliers and the status of various government programs. I shared as much information as I possibly could, to keep all of our team members “in the loop”.
My staff members, those who were still working and those who were laid off, continued to communicate with one another, to share information about files or news, or just to say “Hi, thinking of you”. It was heartwarming to see the comradery between colleagues during a tough time.
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Two months – a new vocabulary – a new way of living and relating to people around us – eternal hope that sometime “our new normal” will be restored to something resembling our “old normal.” This week there appeared to be a small light at the end of the tunnel as businesses in Manitoba, Canada and other places around the world started to open back up. “Slowly and cautiously” will be the mantra to ensure that the “second wave” of the virus does not cause us all to have to revert to complete isolation once again.
Two months is a long time to be away from each other at the office. Two months is a long time to be away from our clients. But as I walked to work this morning, listening to the birds just starting the day and observing the sky change colours in the pre-dawn, my thoughts were not on despair but on gratitude.
Today is National Travel Agent Day and it formally gives me the reason to pause and say to our travel consultants, “Thank you for your outstanding work! Thank you for Creating the Best Days Ever for our clients. Thank you for your caring, your professionalism, your knowledge and your expertise.”
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Gratitude for my gutters and eaves
It had been about 70 days since I last had a day off work. A big work project, then our busy travel season started and then – boom – Covid-19! Like so many business people I am fighting for survival. I plan. I try to figure out the next government relief program and I try to deal with our hundreds of suppliers from all over the world who are all facing difficulties.
Our consultants are still busy re- arranging credits, refunds and doing re-bookings from thousands of trips. Clients continue to praise the diligent efforts of our staff and I can honestly say that some of the comments bring tears to our eyes. I am so very grateful that the efforts of our staff are recognized by you, our clients, and I thank you for taking the time to send your feedback to us.
I haven’t slept a lot in the last 50 days, worrying about things. But, my 28 year-old son who is living with us said, “Dad let’s go and replace those leaking eaves on the house.” Reluctantly I agreed. Read More >
“We believe in the power of travel. It connects business partners, families and friends. Travel also allows us to broaden our horizons and to open our minds to new cultures and countries. We believe in helping you Create your best Days Ever! and for many of our clients that would involve an experience created from some travel that they took.”
This was the opening paragraph of my last letter to you and I wanted to repeat it for the following reason: It is missing something or rather someone. It does not emphasize enough the travel consultants that are here to help you. Over the past 5 weeks, when the travel world simply stopped, a group of people did not stop. Tirelessly they assisted clients trying to get home, then process refunds and credits from suppliers whose rules and procedures were changing on a daily basis. This group of people continued to provide outstanding service even after they and the entire global industry was laid off. As countless testimonials received indicate this service by our Travel Consultants was not only provided to our clients but to ANYONE that phoned, emailed or otherwise contacted us.
It was heartwarming and extremely inspiring to receive so much positive feedback from those we helped in some of the worst days in travel. Here are just a couple of the messages we received:
- The dedication and charity that you and your staff are showing is astounding, Ian. I will never forget it and will retell it many times.
- I would like to commend Martha Banias for the amazing assistance she provided me in getting my son Kevin home from France just before the flights ended. She went above and beyond the call of duty and was a real angel of mercy. (This client’s son had booked his flights “online” and couldn’t receive any assistance from the online company)
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Faceless, online electronic booking systems proved during the current COVID-19 crisis just how much they care about their “customers”. Expedia, the largest online travel agency in the world, proved just how much it cares about its clients. The hundreds of thousands of complaints, the high level of frustration being unable to even get through to their call centers and the start of class action lawsuits all point to a company that was unable to provide a service to their clients. They can handle huge amounts of automated bookings, but when it comes time to handle customer service issues, their systems totally fall apart and fail. And who pays the price for that failure? Their “clients”.
As a small business operating out of brick and mortar offices in Winnipeg and Edmonton, Canada, our clients know who we are, they know where to find us, they know they can get in touch with us, they know who they’re entrusting their travel plans to.
When you book online, do you really know who you’re buying from?
For interest sake, let’s take a look at the world’s Online Travel Agencies or travel booking engines that so many travellers use. Essentially there are only two: Expedia Group (running under 23 different brands) and BookingHoldings (previously PriceLine, running under the brands of Bookings.com, Priceline, Kayak, Open Table and Agoda). These two giants combined control 82% of the world’s online bookings!
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