CI's newest travel agency sees increased demand for travel advisors
Lidiya Ivanova, owner of Barefoot Journeys. Photo: Lisa Reid
With borders closed indefinitely, operating a travel agency may seem like a crazy move.
But that is exactly what Lidiya Ivanova is doing.
Ivanova actually opened her agency, Barefoot Journeys, at the end of January but decided to wait until COVID-19 restrictions were lifted to become fully operational.
With the Cayman Islands celebrating over a month with no active cases, there is some hope on the horizon and Ivanova is already putting things in place.
“My main focus when I opened up was to work with Cayman residents and help them to have the best trips when they go abroad. Now, I am also focused on those who wish to come to the Cayman Islands long term. There are those with temporary work permits who wish to stay longer because of the safety factor,” she explained.
Ivanova believes that with so much uncertainty about new COVID-10 policies, associated hotel policies especially regarding refunds, cancellations and travel insurance, as well as the competition for travellers, travel agents, will be more in demand than ever as people seek expert guidance.
And she is not alone.
Becky Powell, president, Protravel International, has said that advisors are increasingly being asked to be experts not just about destinations but about rapidly changing health policies around the world.
Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch, has said "I believe the role of advisors will be even more important” in the future,
“Travel agents are up to date on what is open and what is not. Many of the online websites keep inventory available for sale regardless and cannot give you first-hand knowledge of what the resorts are doing as far as safety and your wellbeing or if they will actually be there and open. Including airlines who will have tickets listed on websites, but it does not necessarily mean a traveller qualifies to travel to the destination based on quarantine requirements and government restrictions,” said Ivanova.
The prices you see online many times do not include all the fees that are required, even if they say they do and sometimes the small print on refund policies and refund timeline is not made readily available for the online consumer.
Among other benefits of a travel agent today, she said, is that 99 percent of the time they can price match what people find online and throw in the extra perks, they attend regular events, FAM trips and site inspections so they have a chance to meet the suppliers directly and have a better understanding on what you can expect from resorts first hand and you get a qualified and trained agent to guide you through different options so that you get the best experiences based on every budget.
“We offer 24/7 support if anything goes wrong. If you do get stuck somewhere or flights get cancelled etc. an agent will help get you home contrary to online booking sites. As we do have oversea partners and personal relationships with suppliers we often have people on the ground in multiple destinations and can react quickly to any emergencies,” she said.
Barefoot Journeys, a virtual agency, aims to be that expert guide and offers a concierge type service where Ivanova takes care of all of a traveller’s needs. The agency can create events - birthday parties and other special destination events, they can pre-stock your kitchen with your preferred snacks, beverages, arrange a gourmet dining experience and take care of household solutions as required, among other services.
“With me you could literally go barefoot, we will do everything for you,” Ivanova said.
Taking advantage of the opportunities COVD-19 has brought, Ivanova said she has been doing a lot of online training with the Family Travel Association and is now the only certified family travel agency on the island. She has also trained with Virtuoso, a service that connects travellers to travel advisors all over the world.
Asked about the enquiries she has been receiving, Ivanova said there have been requests for trips to places such as Mexico, Dominica and Europe. She said she even received a request for Canada but won’t be taking any bookings before November 15.
Ivanova said while people in the Cayman are generally healthy, older people are more reluctant to travel due to the COVID-19 risk so most of the demand is coming from younger and also more affluent clients.
She said there has been requests for private jet services due to the social distancing measures.
A former employee of the destination management arm of Red Sail Sports, Ivanova said she learnt about the travel industry working with travel groups from the United States who would fly in for events.
She left the job to have a baby and as she didn’t want to return to a nine to five job, she thought of using her travel and marketing experience as well as her network of travel advisors she met at trade shows, to branch out on her own.
As she prepares for the reopening of the borders, Ivanova is ramping up her services to ensure the safety of her guests. One initiative is the possible purchase of some SUVs to offer complimentary drops to and from the airport.