You know what they say: ‘A change is as good as a holiday.’
Anyone who has lived through 2020 may disagree with this sentiment, particularly those who work in the travel industry and have experienced all the devastating changes this year has thrown at us.
For one travel agent, seeking a change amidst the chaos not only gave her a fresh perspective, but also inspired her clients to make a few bookings.
Personal travel manager (PTM) Caroline Cox, who is TravelManagers’ representative for Hope Island in Queensland, has spent much of this year doing her best to adapt to the changes that COVID-19 has inflicted on her industry.
“I have watched plans fall apart for most of my clients as global borders were closed, planes were grounded, empty ships were sent out to sea, and long-awaited holidays were cancelled,” she said.
“As their travel dreams dissolved, my clients relied on me to navigate the labyrinth of changing refund policies, inconsistent border rules and quarantine restrictions.
“The pressure was intense, everyone I knew in the industry was suffering, and I personally felt like a passenger strapped into a car that was hurtling in reverse towards the edge of a cliff.”
Realising that she was struggling, Cox’s partner proposed they drop everything, pack up the caravan and head off on a month-long outback road-trip with friends.
Despite her misgivings about the trip – “it’s so flat, we’ve brought the wrong clothes, the car is filthy already, we should have brought a 4WD” – Cox found that as the days passed, she felt herself becoming more positive.
She discovered that it was a relief to sit back and let someone else take charge, forgoing her usual roles of researcher, guide, nursemaid, navigator, trouble-shooter and agony aunt.
“It was quite different to the holiday I was supposed to be on, cruising the Baltic aboard the Azamara Quest, but as we went on, I started to think about the different clients who would enjoy a similar experience and to appreciate where I was and who I was with,” Cox said.
Setting off from their home base on the Gold Coast, Cox and her travel companions set a leisurely pace towards Winton – a round trip of more than three thousand kilometres that would take them via Bundaberg and Barcaldine, the Gemfields towns of Rubyville and Sapphire, the iconic Ilfracombe pub and the outback town of Longreach.
“Fossicking in Sapphire was a big hoot, and we brought home hundreds of rocks which were thought to be offcuts of sapphires,” she said.
“There I was, the woman who hates dirt and snakes, covered in dust and feeling very proud of myself, fossicking in a dry riverbed.
“I found myself forgetting to worry about how long refunds were taking, and my phone wasn’t even ringing as everyone knew I was away.”
That’s not to say her clients were neglected in her absence – her only condition in agreeing to take the trip was that her laptop came along for the ride so that she could remain in regular contact.
Well-accustomed to working from wherever in the world she happened to be, Cox worked just as well in the Queensland outback as she has in other exotically remote destinations.
On her return to the Gold Coast, one of her first tasks was to call each of her clients to let them know she was back in town – a gesture that was rewarded almost immediately with a variety of new bookings that ranged from a luxury Kimberley cruise to a private charter tour of the outback.
“I actually got three new holiday bookings from a single call worth a total of just under $50,000,” she said.
Cox believes there are great opportunities for agents who are confident in their domestic travel knowledge. The enthusiasm and energy she shared with clients on returning from her own sabbatical has even inspired some of them to book their own Australian adventures.
“The trip, and my clients’ response to the blogs I wrote along the way, have reignited the passion I feel for what I do,” Cox said.
“I’ve been reminded of the importance of sharing travel experiences with your clients, letting them know when you’re back for them and dangling a few tempting options in front of them.”