Preferred Travel of Naples expects travel to bounce back eventually, but right now is focused on providing customers excellent service.
As governments close borders, cruise lines cancel sailings, and museums and attractions around the world shut their doors indefinitely, the travel industry has come to a virtual standstill. Olga Placeres, owner and president of Preferred Travel of Naples, has been busy dealing with that new reality, helping her travel agency clients with cancellations and changes.
“We’re getting them home if they need to come home and answering their questions and setting their minds at ease,” she says. “We’ve always had a 24/7 emergency service, and this is kind of that heightened and on steroids.”
A good chunk of the agency’s two dozen or so staff members have already transitioned to working from home, with more to follow. Technology investments made over the last couple of years to help the firm deal with hurricanes are proving useful in this new environment, making it easy for staff to work from their own laptops, smartphones, or tablets.
“We also have phones [employees] can take home and work virtually as if they’re right here in our office,” says Placeres. “We can transfer calls to them and it just works seamlessly.”
Placeres has already started cutting costs wherever possible to maintain staffing levels as best she can. “My goal is to keep as much of the staff employed as possible,” she says. “They are the backbone of our organization. We’re a service industry, and without our staff we could not do this. I think the next month will be very telling, but if we can tighten our belts, like I told our staff, over the next couple of months, we’ll come out shining at the end.”
Placeres receives frequent updates from suppliers, airlines and cruise lines, and governmental entities that she uses to make decisions. The agency is also part of the Signature Travel Network, where member owners around the country are sharing insight and information.
As the agency deals with the current reality, it also needs to look toward the future, to be ready when the world can travel freely again. It’s staying in constant contact with clients who have trips booked later in the year to keep them informed.
“This is unprecedented; even after 9/11 it wasn’t like this,” says Placeres. “But people will resume traveling, and when that happens we’re going to be right here and ready for them.”