PEI travel agencies say many factors are behind the increasing demand for their services
Travel agents in Prince Edward Island are seeing growing demand for their services due to factors affecting the travel industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
George Stewart, owner of Travels by George, said that as his business grows, he gets at least 10 referrals a week, in addition to clients who already have him as an agent.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it’s the busiest thing I’ve ever had,” he said. “That gives you a little idea of how many people are looking for an agent.”
From the revival of travel due to relaxed public health measures to flight disruptions, missing luggage and labor shortages, all have continued to push travelers to travel advisors who can fix their problems.
At PEI, the sheer volume of people booking getaways during the two weeks of the upcoming Canada Games is adding to the pressure in a traditionally slow travel season.
And with tourism expected to be back in full swing this summer, some travel agents are expecting this year to be even busier than 2022.
More than one reason
Stewart said he first saw the influx of new people wanting to hire an agent’s services when the spread of COVID-19 began affecting air travel. Some agentless passengers sought his help when they were unable to reach either the airline or the third-party platform they booked with after flights were cancelled.
“That’s basically what an agent does,” he said. “They are basically your ombudsman, they are [the] Intermediary dealing with the airline or, you know, your hotel, rental car, etc.”
Pauline Solomon, owner of The Travel Store in Charlottetown, agrees that widespread reports of negative travel experiences over the past few months, including social media posts about long-delayed or lost bags, could lead people to book with travel agents instead.
But she also points to the Canada Games, with people calling her agency as early as last year’s March break to book travel during the two-week break that begins with the start of the PEI-hosted event on February 18.
She also said travelers whose plans were disrupted in the early days of the pandemic are now redeeming their travel credits. Add to that the people who have been saving and waiting until recently to treat themselves to dream vacations this year.
Anyone involved in travel, at any level or in any profession, knows that there is currently a shortage of staff, a shortage of human resources. — Pauline Solomon, owner of The Travel Store
Solomon says travel advisors have the advantage that the hotlines aren’t available to the general public, and they can immediately relay alerts about flight disruptions — often while passengers are still airborne on the first leg of their journey.
“If something goes wrong, if changes need to be made, we can often use our access or relationships with some of the tour operator representatives,” Solomon said.
She said travelers can also save time, as part of an agent’s job involves waiting in queues at airlines – sometimes for hours – on behalf of their customers.
But Solomon said severe labor shortages remain a challenge across the country.
“Anyone who works in travel at any level or any job knows that there is a shortage of staff, a shortage of human resources right now,” she said.
Solomon said experienced staff at her agency have been training new hires since last summer to meet expected travel demand.
“That this is her first really big winter is in itself a real eye opener and a real learning experience,” she said.
“I think if they get through this year they’re in good shape.”