Friday, October 2, 2020

Traveling to Jamaica During Covid-19 - A Travel Agents and Customers Experience

Recently I had the opportunity to send guests to Jamaica for a week. One of many!  These specific plans were crafted over a year ago and as things moved closer to their departure they added flights (on their own to their demise) and then Club Mobay arrival service through my office.

During COVID-19 times I have seen A LOT of health protocols change as the borders of the Caribbean islands begin opening one at a time. The changes are happening nearly every day and the release of this information is not easily accessible on the internet. Not nearly as much as people THINK it is. Not only this but there is no standardized requirement. So onward to this experience...

I had been in touch with this couple often and as their plans began coming together they first realized that they had to change their flights with United at additional costs AND they still had to stay an overnight in New Jersey AND pay for a  hotel for the mixup. All to save themselves a few dollars because I quoted them a slightly higher and more reliable flight. Unfortunately for flights, and I digress that I could not do better, Travel Agents do NOT make commissions so we are at the mercy to pay to book these flights and we have to pass those costs onto our customers AS WELL AS our full service and attention. Something people rarely understand. Sadly. So with that said I, like most 100% of the travel agents I know, have to charge plane tickets service fees at $25 per person per ticket for domestic and $45 per person per ticket international. As of right now. Those costs COULD and MAY change in the future depending upon circumstances. Since there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes with these flights AND I am offering a service for my 7/24 attention to all issues - a concierge so to speak in order for my customers to avoid long lines and frustration at the airport when having to make or in making changes for themselves. Who wants to worry while on vacation?  In this case I had price the $25 per person per ticket fee. So they chose to purchase on their own, leaving from another state, an overnight stay at a layover and then onto their destination the  next day just to make it on time to their final destination all for saving a few bucks. Or so they thought. I am sad to report to others that they didn't save a dime in actuality. They actually spent MORE than they would had they purchased their flights and total package through me.

Well the worry does not stop there! For them or for me.

Basically Jamaica is one of the Caribbean islands that has continuously changed their Covid Travel Protocols. Often. Of course countries want to protect their workers, their jobs, their tourism industry and you! They are willing to do so at the expense of inconveniences for everyone but that is just what they must do to keep their borders open. Ok?  So recently they selected to require individuals wishing to come to Jamaica to submit a Negative PCR test from select CAP labs AS WELL AS receiving a Travel Authorization from the government before a person can even fly! All very understandable. 

First of all I'll explain that my customers were from Maine. It is only to explain that each state has a different method and location for testing and rapid testing is not currently available in Maine... anywhere.  And Jamaica no longer does onsite testing. Something else not many know - and that is the case at least of the date of this writing!

So, during the contact with my customers I made it very clear and a simple dated timeline for which they would need to obtain each in order to make their deadline to their destination without hiccups. You'd think since I was hired to do a job for them I would be 100% trusted by them. I suppose ANYONE would question things IF the tourist board website was different than the travel agents advice. Yes, questionable. And it's not just Jamaica, but all countries. Well this was the case here! Some of the websites you visit are actually out of date and the information is not presented correctly. So YES it is STRONGLY advised that you use a travel agent for your experience! This experience and the experiences shared by many others has opened the eyes of many as to our value!

I do not see the issues you or anyone can face while traveling is going away anytime soon. There will always be the stress and hiccups somewhere. For those that have experienced a perfect vacation every single time and have booked for themselves then I salute you. I truly hope you never come to have any issues at all either and that you never truly realize how much money you did not save by doing so.  For those that truly understand my value, again, thank you!

So basically the deadlines were laid out and I reminded them several times to make sure they made their visits with their primary doctors about a week in advance. There was a specific date for each step that needed to be met. ON TIME was cruicial. One of the issues that was faced was the uploading of the Negative PCR test to the Travel Authorization website. So many things can go wrong with this. From inaccurate information from the lab to needing more information. And to those with a positive test result realizing it when you did, that leaves a Travel Advisor making MANY changes for you - A LOT of extra work! The website also gives directions which are out of date. So can customers became very confused with the differences between my advice and the TA website. Such was the case here. Long story short, the doctors appointments were carried out but COVID tests were scheduled too late, the negative PCR test was uploaded too late. The good thing and somewhat frustrating thing for me....

Since their PCR test was uploaded too late, beyond the date I had given them to do so, I had to put a MAJOR rush on obtaining their authorization for before they flew. Airlines will not let you board a plane to Jamaica without it. I cannot even imagine if they had been stuck in New Jersey unable to fly on to Jamaica due to lack in obtaining their Travel Authorizations on time. No doubt they would have had to change their own flights (at a cost) again, possibly staying another night (another cost) or staying in the hotel and extending their vacation as well as having me change their resort timeframe. A lot going into this "would be" hiccup.  I do not recommend that any customer do it this way again by trusting any website. And certainly not by purchasing their own plane tickets.  It was not only a very nerve-wracking experience for me but was also harrowing for the customer. No doubt that it would be for anyone if done the same exact way,

Now came my MAGIC as a Travel Agent which you should hire. This is not the epitome of WHY you should hire me. Although it is not the entire reason or just one reason but it is just one small part of doing what I do and why I'm worth the cost of the service. There are so many MORE reasons to use a Travel Advisor and this is just one example.

In order to get these customers to Jamaica and avoid all the extra money they would have to spend for their misunderstandings and/or questioning who to trust, I made a few quick phone calls to get their Covid Test results and Travel Authorization looked FAST. Thankfully I have many FANTASTIC contacts that are all part of the travel agent community.  Everyone works in a tight little family / team and it really is helpful to any emergency situation such as this was. If I had not acted fast, these customers vacation would have been delayed by at least 2 days. And not to toot my own horn but if they had not used my services at all, they would have had to make a lot of their own changes and at a much higher cost.

So long story short of the experience a Travel Agent: 

1) Saves Time

2) Saves $$

3) Is there

4) Can get you out of a jam

5) Reduces worry

6) Should be trust-worthy

7) Should be counted upon

8) Should be listened to

9) Should be reputable and ethical

10) Should be HIRED!

I love my customers even through all of this. I would work with them again. Why? Because I KNOW they would trust me again and maybe even next time they would allow me to handle every part of their vacation. 

I hope you will too!