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Even if some travel agents don't foresee trip-stacking becoming a long-term practice, the ongoing uncertainty about future restrictions and closures may mean they'll have to resort to the tactic longer than they expect.

The large number of travel restrictions enacted by countries all over the world has made planning trips enormously challenging for travel advisors and travelers themselves during the pandemic. And Covid variants also complicated trip planning for many, leading to large numbers of cancellations.

However, one practice is making trip planning easier for travel advisors as well as their customers — trip-stacking. It refers to agents booking multiple trips for their clients over the same period to prevent Covid from totally ruining their travel plans. And as numerous locations still haven’t reopened for tourism, trip-stacking remains an option for travel advisors and their customers — especially as the possibility of future Covid surges messing up travel exists.

What does trip-stacking look like? Joshua Bush, the CEO of Pennsylvania-based agency Avenue Two Travel, said the tactic provides travelers a backup option if their preferred location is off limits. He cited the example of booking a Silversea cruise and Hawaii trip for one traveler. The client ended up being able to move the cruise to 2022 while being able to visit the Aloha State this year.

But Bush described the situation as resembling a tennis match as the customer debated which trip to take first as Hawaii’s governor urged prospective visitors to delay non-essential travel. This made the consumer consider moving the Hawaii trip before deciding to visit the islands this year.

“This is one of those cases when the strategy worked out really well for the client,” Bush said.

So when did trip stacking start to be common in the first place? Bush said his company started to employ the tactic this summer as Covid cases were rising and its customers were experiencing challenges in seeing their planned trips take place.

“In many cases, we were working on the same trip for the second time, the third time, (and) in some cases, the fourth or even the fifth time,” Bush said. “We wanted to make sure that we kind of hedged our bet in a way that we could make sure that that trip came to fruition and that the client actually got to travel.”

When asked if it was largely advisors or customers who broached the subject of trip stacking, Bush responded it was the former. “We did it for one or two clients, and we talked about the idea, particularly for clients who had been disappointed one or twice with having to postpone,” he said, adding that advisors and clients felt a strong desire not to experience such feelings of frustration again.

Trip-stacking has emerged as a solution for advisors and travelers since cancellation policies aren’t as strict as they were prior to pandemic, according to Lauren Doyle, the president of North Carolina-based boutique travel agency The Travel Mechanic.

But Bush doesn’t use the tactic when dealing with all of his agency’s clients, especially with those he feels tend to be rigid in their life choices and don’t travel frequently.

“If you introduce an enormous amount of change to them, if you have a whole bunch of moving parts and pieces, that may not be their style,” he said, adding that travel advisors have to know their clients’ tendencies such as their risk tolerance and decision-making abilities.

More importantly, travel advisors have found that trip-stacking has presented several challenges for them as well as their clients. “When stacking two trips in different countries, requirements can change,” Doyle said, providing the hypothetical example of booking trips to the United Kingdom and Italy. “It is double work for the travel advisor or person booking.”

Meanwhile, Bush believes there could be some potential pushback to trip-stacking. “Are you taking away inventory in a very compressed market by essentially doing a double booking?” he said, adding that knowing the terms and conditions of reservations is the only way to make sure the tactic is successful. Indeed, hotels tend to have flexible policies regarding cancellations while tours and ticketed events generally do not.

“The last thing we wanted to do was to inconvenience or take away inventory or space from our supplier partners, whether it’s a hotel or a cruise line,” Bush said.

Bush and Doyle both don’t view trip-stacking as long-term practice. But Covid surges in Europe could lead nations on the continent to reintroduce more travel restrictions. In addition, some countries — such as Japan — still haven’t reopened to tourism. Thus Bush believes trip-stacking is still viable due to the present hurdles some travelers face.

“There are still some destinations out there that present some challenges,” he said. “Anything in Asia at this moment in time is something you would want to have a backup plan for.”

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Tags: coronavirus, customer service, lockdowns, reopening, travel advisors, travel agents

Photo credit: Travel advisors are working to give their clients more options to enjoy experiences like this in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park / Flickr

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