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March 21, 2020,

Impacts of the coronavirus crisis: Travel agency transformed into an information line

Impacts of the coronavirus crisis: Travel agency transformed into an information line

Private companies are facing a struggle with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on their business. The travel agency Invia.cz, which directly and indirectly employs a total of 2,100 people throughout the country, responded immediately to the decline in sales and, at the same time, is providing assistance in the current crisis situation. Employees of its call centre are manning two information lines that serve to help seniors, disabled people and people under quarantine.

The travel industry was one of the first sectors that had to adapt to the spread of the coronavirus. People stopped travelling, airlines cancelled flights, hotels stopped receiving guests and travel agencies could no longer sell their services. The time has thus come when it is necessary to look at one’s business from a different angle and attempt to apply one’s strengths elsewhere. An example of this is Invia, a travel agency that employs 387 people and on whose services an additional 1,750 employees of business partners are dependent, as it comprises the backbone of the travel industry in the Czech Republic and in certain areas abroad. At the same time, it enables small and medium-sized travel agencies to increase their sales and the survival of the four largest travel agencies. The company is also the provider of vacation travel services for the majority of Czechs, who would otherwise have to handle their own travel planning, which is more expensive and feasible only for people with language skills. Therefore, Invia had to very rapidly respond to the current situation. For example, instead of selling travel services, it is now operating a toll-free information line for seniors.

The information line at 800 160 166 was set up by the Red Cross and Život 90 in cooperation with Prague City Hall. Invia provided its call centre, or rather its employees, who were faced with layoffs, as they had no one to serve now that travel sales have stalled. However, the management of the Rockaway investment group, to which Invia belongs, got in contact with City Hall and redirected the company’s people to the new information line in record time. The employees were able to quickly reorient themselves, underwent training and armed themselves with detailed manuals to guide them in answering questions pertaining to the coronavirus situation, thus assisting senior citizens from Prague and elsewhere in the country.

“Seniors can call the information line for any assistance and support they may need. They can order medications, sanitary products and food, which will be delivered to their homes,” says Petr Hlubuček, deputy mayor of Prague, commenting on the purpose for which the line was set up.

Better to have different work than no work

The collaboration came together very quickly on 12 March, when the government instituted a ban on travel to high-risk countries, which was further expanded on the following day. “Of course, demand for travel services declined and we wouldn’t have work for our employees. However, information emerged that Prague City Hall would launch its own telephone line, so from one hour to the next, we began looking for ways to assist them with our capacities,” says Kateřina Macečková, Invia call-centre coordinator.
“Due to the fact that it is a nonstop line, we were a bit concerned about whether we would be able to cover the evening and night shifts. We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction of our employees. Everyone understood that we are in a situation where we would have either alternative work or no work, since that is now the reality of the travel industry. The attitude of the employees shows how strong and flexible the Invia team is. They immediately understood the situation and started helping people in need,” Macečková adds.

Training for 180 employees

In addition to the crisis line for seniors, Invia’s employees have become part of the nationwide 1212 line. The newly operating call centre is now staffed by a total of 180 Invia employees, who alternate in shifts and mostly work from home for safety reasons. During a single weekend, trained instructors prepared them to work with seniors and explained the issues connected with all aspects of the coronavirus. “The basic principle remains the same as when we’re working in the travel industry: listen to people, find out what their problem is and given them the most appropriate advice or recommendation on where to turn,” adds Andrea Řezníčková, spokesperson for the Invia travel agency, which also operates as an expansive online price-comparison platform, the only one of its kind on the Czech travel market.
Operation of the nationwide information line at 1212 was launched in the evening of Sunday, 15 March. Within three hours of the initial reports of Invia’s involvement in the nationwide information line, the first twenty people from the sales department were prepared to take calls. Full operation of the line at 800 160 166 was commenced on the night of Monday, 16 March, with a team from the back-office department. To date, the line has been operated by a total of 180 Invia employees, who daily receive more than 500 calls from Prague residents and thousands on the nationwide line.