Travel agents stay connected with virtual events coronavirus

When joining an online Zoom meeting hosted by a travel
agency, one isn’t usually greeted by the sound of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna
Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” 

But that’s exactly what attendees of Largay Travel’s meeting
got on Friday, March 20, when the agency hosted its first virtual dance party.

As many across the country have been ordered to shelter in
place and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19,
the typically extroverted travel agency community has turned to the internet
for everything from video meetings to peer interactions, to, yes, even virtual
dance parties and happy hours.

“Times are tough all around for everyone, and we just have
to remember to support each other in any and every way possible,” said Amanda
Klimak, the president of Waterbury, Conn.-based Largay. 

Besides, she said, it’s crucial to “emotionally, physically,
help each other out.”

Largay’s first virtual dance party was open to everyone,
including advisors from Largay and beyond, suppliers and clients. It also drew
a fair number of children, cats and dogs among its 81 attendees. Even Virtuoso
CEO Matthew Upchurch stopped by with his wife, Jessica Upchurch, Virtuoso’s
sustainability ambassador.

“Everybody was so excited to just see everyone else being
silly, and it was just nice for 15 minutes for everyone to laugh,” Klimak said.

That was the root from which the idea grew, offering travel
advisors, who have been hit 24/7 with an onslaught of concerned clients, travel
warnings and a multitude of supplier policy changes, a chance to decompress,
even if for just a few minutes.

Largay isn’t just holding dance parties online. The agency’s
annual retreat was originally scheduled for this week but was canceled. Now, it
will be held fully online on Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3. The agency has
also started a “meditation Monday” online event, and it is encouraging advisors
to post photos of their favorite souvenirs on social media with the hashtag
#souvenirsaturday.

Klimak said it wasn’t difficult to move online, as Largay
was used to hosting things such as sales calls on Google Hangouts or Zoom.

“We were already most of the way there” before the
coronavirus crisis began, she said. “But what we really started training [our
advisors on] was on how do you have client meetings via Zoom? How do you have
client events via Zoom? So we’re going to be doing virtual cocktail parties and
all sorts of different things.”

Especially at a time when almost everyone is under some sort
of order to either shelter in place or remain socially distant from others,
video has taken on added importance, Klimak said. 

“I think the phone is great, and having conversations is
wonderful, but there is so much more gained when you can look someone in the
eye and be able to talk to them,” she said. “What we really found is that the
best way to keep people from getting super-depressed or feeling even more
isolated is to just use video as much as possible.”

She finds it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the
situation that agencies are facing.

“Believe me, we all need to deal with the reality of the
situation,” she said. “But we do need to allow ourselves still to be happy at
moments and maintain our emotional health, because that’s just as important as
our physical health.”

Ensemble Travel Group is also encouraging members to connect
online.

The consortium has started a new initiative,
#EnsembleStrong, via a private Facebook group for members.

Alexa Wheeler, Ensemble’s brand marketing and communication
specialist, said the group is meant to be a way for advisors to talk business
as well as to share some more positive things with each other.

“As everyone knows, right now there is a lot of emotion
around everything going on with Covid-19, and it’s hard to stay positive,
especially in our industry,” Wheeler said “And industry leaders keep saying
that it will get better, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the
tunnel right now. 

“We wanted to just create a movement for our members with,
like, a sacred place (so to call it), where they can go for positive advice,
positive feedback, inspiration, funny memes,” she said. “Anything that will
just help them, whether it’s making their day or advice on what they could do
for their own business.”

Wheeler conducted a poll among the group’s members to see
what kind of content they were interested in. Most wanted sharable content for
their own audiences, followed by positive, industry-related updates, then “just
for laughs” content and inspirational content.

After Ensemble canceled several meetings recently, creating
a space for members to interact became even more important, she said.

“Unfortunately, that has to be done online now, but as long
as they have that space to do it, they seem, so far, to be very appreciative of
the efforts,” Wheeler said. “It’s a way that they can get through the difficult
times together.”

Tom Ogg, founder and co-owner of TravelProfessional
Community.com, said the site has seen an uptick in traffic related to
coronavirus. The site is free for advisors, but they are vetted before they
gain entrance to the community of around 16,000.

The site houses quite a bit of content, Ogg said, but there
is one area agents gravitate to: the forum. It’s the place where advisors can
start threads about any number of professional topics. Naturally, a number have
been related to coronavirus lately, including discussions about suppliers (who
are not permitted on the site) and business survival tactics.

Now more than ever, he said, it’s important for travel
advisors to interact with their peers for professional advice and even some
fun.

In Klimak’s view, “Our industry right now is under siege,
and even if we can’t financially help each other, we can at least emotionally
help each other and be kind to one another in this industry. It’s so
important.”

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