The impact was almost immediate. Earlier this month, soon after luxury travel seller Embark Beyond began offering clients a self-administered COVID test kit that meets U.S. re-entry requirements, sales of international travel jumped by 30%.
It wasn’t the first time the agency had seen a significant sales jump after launching a program aimed at easing the hassles and anxiety of travel during COVID.
“We’ve always taken the approach of being customer-centric, really thinking about the customer first and building out from there,” said managing partner Jack Ezon, who co-founded Embark Beyond in early 2019. “That’s the way we should all be thinking in this industry – not, here’s something we have to sell, who can buy it, but what do you need? Let’s create that and sell it.
“That’s really driven a lot of our success through COVID.” As of September, Embark Beyond’s international business had grown to 68% of sales, and the agency projects its international sales will grow to 85% of volume for travel through March 2022.
Advisors can accelerate recovery
Ezon urges other travel advisors to adopt a similar approach to easing traveler hassles and worries during COVID. Doing so, he said, just might accelerate global recovery, while helping advisors boost client engagement, attract new clients and drive sales.
“We need to try to make travel as easy as possible for our clients, to continue to encourage the world to keep traveling, not just your own clients.”
Ezon’s advice to travel advisors at this critical juncture is to “think of yourself as that customer. What are the most annoying things you have to go through?”
COVID testing service
It was that thinking that spurred Embark Beyond to pursue a partnership with health tech firm eMed to provide rapid antigen test kits that clients can self-administer while overseas to meet U.S. requirements for re-entry or use before leaving home when traveling to countries that require pre-entry testing.
“As you start traveling internationally, having to do an errand to take a test before you leave is just annoying. Even if a hotel is doing testing onsite, I have to go downstairs, interrupt my day, sign up, fill out a form, wait 10 minutes. I’m on vacation! I don’t want to do that.”
With Embark Beyond’s program, clients purchase Binax Now test kits before leaving home and administer the tests at their convenience – no appointment needed. When conducting the self-test, travelers engage with eMed via Zoom, where a specialist talks them through the process and scans the bar code on their kit. It takes 10 to 20 minutes, costs about $35 per person, and yields a CDC-acceptable lab report.
The program has been a “tremendous” client engagement and client acquisition tool, Ezon said.
Listen & problem-solve
Advisors can emulate Embark’s success by listening to their clients, asking open-ended questions, empathizing and problem-solving, Ezon said. “It’s such a basic premise of hospitality – take a genuine interest in other people and really try to make them feel like they’re being cared for.
“It’s about seeing needs and trying to fulfill those needs, whether it’s as obvious as a trip or not. It’s about really caring about your customer and trying to find a way to make their life better.”
Other ways that Embark Beyond has strived to minimize anxiety for clients around COVID-era international travel include:
- offering Covac medical evacuation insurance;
- appointing a COVID specialist to maintain Embark’s resource center and answer advisor questions;
- creating country-specific email templates that advisors can use to give clients simple step-by-step explanations about protocols and links in their destination;
- upgrading its VIP meet and greet service to include personal guidance through COVID paperwork, testing, and other issues.
Those ideas didn’t necessarily originate with Embark, Ezon said. “People think that Embark is so innovative. I don’t know that we’re innovative as much as we practice the art of listening and good empathy.”
The ideas also are born out of daily calls with Embark’s own travel advisors where participants review the agency’s credo and discuss what’s on their minds. “A lot of our ideas germinate in listening to patterns and hearing what our frontline advisors are sharing and then finding a solution,” Ezon said.
Moment of truth
Travel advisors who listen to their customers’ pain points and develop solutions will reap the rewards, he said. “While you’re really trying to solve a problem for your customer, there are so many other fringe benefits [including] new client acquisition and positioning yourself in the market as being an advocate for people who really need one now.”
There’s no more important time than now for travel advisors to take this approach in Ezon’s view.
“This is what we call the ZMOT – zero moment of truth. There’s been no other time in maybe two decades that the travel industry has seen such a growth of new travel advisor clients. They come to us because they need supports. This is the time we need to show what we really do, really connect with the client, transcend the transaction, build a relationship and grow.”