The on-going Covid-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, including our holidays and cruises. Throughout this period, we've continued to work hard to do our best for our clients. Amy explains how the crisis has proven why our core values to deliver expertise and personal service to act in our clients' best interests are so important now, more than ever.

When I have previously written about the value of travel agents, I’ve talked about how ‘the internet, ‘AI’, and all the modern gizmos are all well and good, but there’s still a lot to be said for dealing with another human being. At Select Travel Holidays, we are all about the personal service, it’s what we pride ourselves on most of all – and something that our clients praise us for, time and time again.’ This point I made about the value of the ‘human factor’ and the personal service that we at Team Select pride ourselves on has really become extremely pertinent in recent months.

By no stretch of the imagination, we are currently in extraordinary times. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the air, and words like ‘unprecedented’ are starting to feel like they’re losing their meaning. In our everyday lives, we are living under measures not seen during peacetime, and the world has not seen a pandemic like this in living memory. The travel industry has seen many different events over the decades that have had an impact on travel, and the majority of Team Select have worked through these, from recessions, ash clouds, the SARS outbreak and swine flu, to 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities, Gulf Wars, and travel companies going bust. While the travel industry has shown remarkable resilience throughout all these, and I believe it will continue to demonstrate this resilience, I think it is fair to say that the on-going Covid-19 pandemic is unlike anything anyone in the industry (or outside it) has seen before. In a way, this makes Coronavirus a leveller in terms of industry experience; it does not matter whether you’ve been in travel for six months or over fifty years. What does matter, what is most important, is doing your best for your clients. And that is precisely what we have done throughout this pandemic, and what we’ve always done before it, and what we will always do after it. The human factor, as I previously called it, or just good, old-fashioned customer service.

We might be a small team here at Select Travel Holidays, but we have proved by our response to Covid-19 that ‘big is not best’. During a much earlier stage of this crisis, when travel was still allowed, we were actively helping clients overseas return home. We have continued to work hard to be proactive throughout this situation, as our clients are our priority and always come first for us, and so we have been diligently contacting clients to advise them of any updates and their many options to help them make the decision that’s right for them and their circumstances. We contact them before their balance is due so they can take advantage of the flexibility many cruise lines and tour operators are offering to make it even easier to transfer a booking to a later date, and we contact them if their cruise or holiday has been cancelled by the cruise line or tour operator. We have received calls from people who had booked with other agents, often much larger than us, who can’t get through to them, or haven’t even heard from them, even when a holiday departure is looming within weeks. This is in stark contrast to how we have tried our best to make sure that we contact our clients as soon as we hear of any updates, or even to reassure them that we will get in touch once we hear more.

'We have the contacts to offer even more discretion and flexibility for many of our clients.'

Obviously, our hard work doesn’t end with updating our clients and advising them of their options. We understand that each of our clients’ circumstances are unique to them, and they must make the right decision for them, whether it’s to cancel or transfer their holiday, to accept a Future Cruise Credit or use their Refund Credit Note for a future holiday, or to request a cash refund. We give them all the options so they can make a fully informed decision, and once that is made, we action it for them. Having been leading cruise specialists for over twenty years, we have the contacts to offer even more discretion and flexibility for many of our clients. Where refunds are offered and accepted, refunds are taking an understandably long time for operators to process, due to the large volumes of affected bookings they are trying to deal with (often with reduced teams, with many in the industry being furloughed, including most of our own team). But, as I admitted in my most recent e-newsletter to our clients, ‘it is just as frustrating for us as it is for our clients as we are also waiting to be able to deliver what you want.’

However, I do believe that all we can do is our very best for our clients, and that is – hand on heart – what we have tried to do. It’s what we’ve always done, right from when we first take enquiries from clients, throughout the whole booking process up to when they depart and return home (in normal circumstances). What is right for our clients is at the heart of everything we do, and always has been.

My mum, Rachel, has always talked about how important it is to get the right cruise or holiday for the client, not what’s right for the agent or agency. When I was a child growing up before she started working at Cruise Select in 1999, she worked for a large multiple, and while she was good at her job of selling travel, their ethos didn’t sit right with her. From the start of her time at Cruise Select through to today as the owner of Select Travel Holidays, she’s had the freedom to instil her own values into the business, and that’s why from the start of a client’s contact with us we always ensure that we find the right holiday for them, and are never swayed or incentivised away from that. Impartiality is core to our existence as independent travel agents. Relationships within the travel industry are important to build up and have over the years proved very beneficial for our clients (especially so right now!), and we have always been careful with our choices of travel partners to ensure quality, fairness, and good value for money for our clients. Again, this is reflective of our core value of always doing what is right for our customers.

These are not normal times, and I truly believe that it has shown how important our values are as a business, and how fantastic our team are.

No one could have predicted a crisis on such an international scale, or one which would have such a widespread impact on the travel industry, let alone have contingency plans for it; the existing legislation certainly never made any provisions for such an event. There has been much debate in the press and on social media about Refund Credit Notes. While I understand the disappointment and frustration in not receiving a refund within 14 days, as you’re legally entitled to, it is simply not practicable, and the overall situation is less than ideal, but I believe that, provided ABTA’s guidelines are followed diligently by tour operators, a Refund Credit Note is a flexible solution for both customers and tour operators. It is important to remember that they preserve, not deny, the right to a cash refund, while adding the additional flexibility to re-book a holiday for a later date that, had Coronavirus never happened, customers would’ve gone on and enjoyed. I also believe that the Refund Credit Note could be a litmus test for us going forwards; in good times, a tour operator has fair protocols, refunds within the standard time limit etc, but did a tour operator follow ABTA’s guidance properly? If we feel that a tour operator didn’t, we will simply never book a client’s holiday with them in the future. It’s as simple as that. I am pleased to say that our travel partners we work closely with have all passed the test.

In normal times, I know that we have an excellent team of dedicated, knowledgeable travel experts, with decades of experience who offer personal customer service. I’ve always been proud to be part of this team, and what we consistently deliver for our customers. These are not normal times, and I truly believe that it has shown how important our values are as a business, and how fantastic our team are. Our family-owned business might not bear our name, but it might as well do, and I truly believe that family businesses are very special in that they are that bit more personal. We have been truly humbled by some of the feedback we have received from clients throughout this whole crisis, and we are so proud and privileged to help our clients. At the end of the day, we know that we can say that we’ve done all we possibly could for our clients, and we look forward to assisting them with many more bookings in the future, for holidays that they will get to enjoy once it’s safe to do so.


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