TomFlies.com is an NYC-based, new-concept travel agency that aims to provide several essential aspects of travel that may have been overlooked throughout the years. Not selling exaggerated experiences, but rather leading their clients to genuine discovery is a key goal at the new age travel agency. We asked their Lead Flights Analyst, Adam Kwan some questions about the future of travel and how TomFlies.com plans to be a part of it. Here is what he had to say.
Q.It appeared for a while that the Internet (and D.I.Y. booking) would deal a major blow to travel agencies, however they have actually seen a strong resurgence in recent years. Why is this and how does the pandemic factor in?
A.What we try to do for each one of our clients is to identify where we can add value above and beyond the services they can book themselves. Whether it be monetary value from negotiated rates or service-oriented benefits such as expertise and personal vetting of providers and vendors, we think this goes a long way in showing clientele the benefits of booking with us.
People nowadays are inundated with what are essentially cookie cutter options that provide instant gratification. Just go on Amazon and you’re a couple clicks away from getting whatever you want, shipped straight to you from a warehouse containing hundreds of the same whatever-you-wants. We believe that this type of standardized mass merchandising is not befitting of people’s travel needs. People don’t buy vacations as nonchalantly as they do household goods. They want to be sure that they will get the best experience and best value for their travel. Especially since, for many people, a vacation is a significant expense relatively.
Right now, travelling in a pandemic-stricken world, people are more nervous than ever. Their confidence has been shaken and many people are unsure what will await them when they exit their plane. Making sure that people are confident that their travel will go off without a hitch has always been one of our main goals, so we view travel consultants as more beneficial than ever. There is a deluge of information out there with each country having different regulations. The last thing someone wants to do is spend their hard-earned money on a trip, only to find out they cannot board the plane or leave quarantine during their stay. That’s where we step in, making sure that our clients are making completely informed decisions with confidence.
Q. Loyalty and rewards programs play a much larger role for airlines and hotels than meets the eye. Can you discuss how and why these programs are so vital for the travel industry, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic?
A. We see two main benefits to loyalty programs. The first is obvious—reducing customer churn and encouraging purchases with your company over your competitors; i.e. customer loyalty. The second benefit is liquidity through corporate partnerships.
Reducing customer churn (the rate at which customers stop buying your product over time) is important for every industry, but even more so in leisure travel where each individual customer may only purchase something once a year or less. It is tantamount that a travel company remains prominently in view of their clientele. Regular newsletters, deals, and targeted ads help with this, but a loyalty program will take this a step further. Loyalty programs create a sense of investment in your clients and strongly encourage them to return to you for their travel needs. There have been many detailed studies done on the psychological effects of loyalty programs, but the benefits are essentially the following:
- Goal Anticipation – Creating something for your client to work for. By giving them a concrete goal and a way for them to track their progress towards that goal, people will be strongly motivated to complete that goal; i.e. purchase more. Not only that, but customers will invest more to complete the goal the closer they are to achieving it.
- Positive Reinforcement – Encouraging customers to stick with you by giving them rewards is an obvious example of positive reinforcement. But just as important is the converse. Not only are you encouraging people to purchase through your company, but you also create a sense of “lost value” when they book with your competitors. Studies have shown that people generally tend toward being risk-averse when faced with a value-loss proposition.
- Creating a sense of exclusivity – Simply put, people like being in exclusive groups and feeling unique and appreciated. Top-tiers of loyalty programs offer this prestige. If you make JetBlue Mosaic, you’re going to feel pretty good being the first one on the plane.
The second main benefit is more simply explained. Airlines and hotels will create liquidity by selling their points to corporate partners. When Chase or American Express offer their cardholders point exchanges or deals with specific travel partners, that likely means the bank has purchased points in bulk from the travel provider. This accounts for a surprisingly significant portion of the liquidity for several travel companies and is important in supporting daily operations and business development.
Both of these benefits are eminently important during the pandemic. When your clients are ready to travel again, you want to make sure they come back to you. And while traditional sales dry up, you want the extra liquidity from corporate points sales to keep things running.
Q. Should consumers be thinking any differently about their loyalty/rewards memberships during this period? Are there any tips or strategies you have for people who travel frequently and accrue a lot of points?
A. There are a few tips and tricks we have for maximizing the value of your points, however more so in general rather than specifically during the pandemic.
First is to absolutely do your research. There’s no way of knowing if you’re getting a good value for your points unless you know the baseline value of them. For example, TrueBlue points are worth 1.1 cents each on average. I would only book flights with points where you meet or exceed that exchange rate. During COVID, we’d suggest to make sure that there is no expiration on your points and benefits, at least until you’re ready to travel again. If there is, ask the airline or hotel if they can extend the expiration for you.
Second is to shop around. Just because you have points with American Airlines doesn’t mean you can’t buy a British Airways ticket with them. Airlines have partners which often allow you to book the same exact flight through them. For example, Alaska Airlines offers many of the same flights operated by its partner American Airlines, however the flights usually cost fewer Alaska Airlines miles than AAdvantage Points. You can simply transfer your points from AA to Alaska and use them there for more value per point.
Q. What have been the most frequently asked questions by your clients during the pandemic and how are you advising them?
A. Far and away the most asked question is whether a traveler will have to quarantine when they arrive at a destination or if they will have to take a COVID test before travelling. We’re keeping track of the ever-changing regulations for each of our most popular destinations so we can make sure all of our clients are fully informed.
Q. What destinations, US and international, do you expect to see the most interest in once virus fears subside and travel returns to pre-pandemic levels—or close?
A. Hard to tell, but it’s between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in our opinion. We’re already seeing a large uptick of interest in the Caribbean, especially for all-inclusive resort destinations like Cancun and Punta Cana. The amount of interest can only go up from here. We think that the private and comprehensive experience offered by all-inclusive resorts does add a sense of security for their guests. Knowing that everything you need is in an environment you’ve seen being sanitized goes a long way towards making people feel safe during a pandemic. They can have it all without having to go out into unfamiliar surroundings that may not be clean.
We also think people are just itching to head back to the Mediterranean, we know we are. Italy, Spain, Egypt, Israel, and Greece et al have always been some of our most requested destinations, and people miss those places more than ever now that travel is restricted.
Q.What is the single biggest reason to use a travel advisor?
A.Simply that the cost to benefit ratio is great. With our agency’s negotiated rates and worldwide reach, we can offer prices competitive with OTAs while also offering the added benefit of travel planning expertise and dedicated e-concierge services and support before, during, and after travel. Essentially, people will be able to pay roughly the same amount of money for their travel as if they booked it themselves, without actually having to do anything themselves.
Q.In just a few words, what is your philosophy at TomFlies.com?
See our full report on The State of Travel: 2021