Dream Vacations, a leading national travel agency franchise, believes in the future of travel. According to UBS research, 76% of people who had a canceled cruise have chosen a future cruise credit in 2021, while Cruise Critic reports that 92% of its members are open to cruising again.
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke to two Dream Vacations franchise owners and vacation specialists to see how their businesses have been impacted and how they are adapting to the new normal.
BE: How are you adjusting to this new COVID-world? Have you changed the way you are doing business or marketing?
Trinita Brown, Washington, D.C.: I decided to use this opportunity to do some continuing education–to take classes provided by suppliers, become a destination expert, take travel certification classes. Additionally, I took some time to reorganize my files and resources but, most importantly, I took the time to think about my business in general, my focus/niche (“Bucket List” Travel Groups), and my goals.
Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, I have become more than a travel destination expert to my clients. Over time, many of my clients have become friends. It is not always about selling or marketing. This is a “people” business. Recently, I have become more of a resource in general to many of my clients. I checked in with them to see if I could assist in any way. Some clients wanted to know what was happening in the travel industry and some wanted to chat about the “new normal” and what that might look like, while others wanted to talk about a recent loss of a friend or family member to COVID-19. Some needed even more practical assistance. For example, I picked up groceries for one of my older clients and had some items delivered for another. It was a pleasure to continue to assist my clients in any way I could. COVID-19 has increased my need to think out of the box as I do all that I can to meet my clients’ ever-changing needs.
Donald Smith, Fontana, CA: The travel industry holds a unique position in society that can help mend a broken heart, heal emotional sorrows, create happy, memorable moments, or even get you to a distant job opportunity. As the pandemic reached unprecedented levels, travel was not on the minds of many; at least not for pleasure or business. However, our agency realized the loss of many vacations was not just about fun in the sun, but well-earned getaways, weddings, family reunions, and even opportunities to visit countries never explored. Through adjusting how we viewed our customers’ travel interests and what may simply be a typical vacation for some, we took it to a personal level. We understand the challenges each individual, group, or new prospective traveler may experience in response to the new requirements of what is considered COVID-19-responsible travel.
My travel agency franchise goes beyond researching dates and locations to travel but personalizing our client’s vacation to their desires. I developed marketing strategies to identify client needs and stay true to those principles. Since the COVID-19 pandemic literally caused many people to reconsider travel, ensuring them their interest and safety comes first was a guiding principle in our approach. As such, a slight change in marketing and how we conduct business was enhanced to ease the tensions of skeptical clients.
Supporting Owners in Challenging Times
Dream Vacations remains committed to upholding its reputation for world-class support for its franchise owners.
“We say it 365 days a year and during these unprecedented times, one thing has never changed: that our number-one priority is taking care of our customers, and our customers are our Dream Vacations travel agents,” says Chief Operating Officer Debbie Fiorino. “We are in the business of making business dreams become a reality, and this means making adjustments to ensure our agents can afford to stay in business while the industry is at a standstill.”
Both Brown and Smith echo this sentiment when asked about how they were being supported by Dream Vacations during the pandemic.
Smith: Dream Vacations is absolutely the best travel franchise company to be associated with within the industry. Immediately upon the realization that COVID-19 would have a dramatic effect on the world population and the travel industry, the Dream Vacations headquarters team began actions to provide accurate and immediate communications within its ranks. The need to deliver COVID-19 information was
not driven by sales, but a genuine concern for travelers, staff, and the moral desire to fulfill their responsibility as a worldwide travel organization.
Dream Vacations’ websites not only provide the best opportunities to find a great dream vacation at the best price, but you can find updates on COVID-19 as it affects the cruise industry. This includes COVID-19 refund policies, what are Future Cruise Credits (FCC), online payment and reservation status, and a detailed ship guide that provides specific information about the most popular cruise ships.
Brown: Of course, most travel professionals were initially so busy trying to contact their clients who were traveling in March and April to find out if they wanted to cancel their trip or postpone and rebook. Initially, it appeared that travel would resume in perhaps a few weeks, but as each day passed more restrictions were placed on travel. The Dream Vacations headquarters team has been amazing providing franchisees with critical information on restrictions in general, as well as supplier information regarding their cancellation process and rebooking process. Additionally, they provided updates from the CDC and essential travel destination each with its own guidelines and restrictions. Every day and at times, twice or more, the Dream Vacations headquarters team provided a newsletter filled with everything needed to provide clients with the most up to date information. This was critical and improved my ability to do my job with confidence knowing that I had up-to-date and accurate information.
Dream Vacations has provided franchisees with the resources to market to our clients during this time. At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown especially, we did not wholly focus on selling our clients anything. I have had several clients tell me that they loved our #LetsKeepDreaming theme in our newsletter. We are encouraging our clients to dream about where they want to go when travel resumes, so our newsletters contained crossword puzzles, word searches, and information about exciting destinations.
#LetsKeepDreaming is my favorite campaign, indeed. My clients told me that it reminds them to not dwell on the fact they cannot travel right now, but that they can still dream about and focus on fabulous places to go in the near future–and, most importantly, that there is light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.
Is It a Good Time to Start a Travel Business?
Travel was one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is starting to bounce back, as airlines and cruise ships craft a “new normal” to ensure passenger safety. So, if this is a business that you considered before the pandemic stopped you, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. In spite of COVID-19, Dream Vacations continues to have new owners starting their businesses.
The company quickly launched a completely virtual weeklong initial training for new agents that provides the same amount of training and learning hours as in-person. The classes have been booked to capacity each month.
“All businesses have a ramp-up period, and travel is no different,” says Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations. “We are advising new agents to use this time to train, earn certifications, and create a business plan so they can hit the ground running when people are ready to travel again.”