Local travel agent discusses impact of COVID-19

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In a world where the COVID-19 pandemic has hit a wide range of industries and their employees, one industry in particular has been beaten.

The US travel industry has suffered billions in lost revenue since the spread of the virus launched a global response resulting in restrictions, border closures and warrants confining many people to their homes.

About $ 481 billion has been lost in the travel industry this year to date, according to the US Travel Association (USTA).

For travel agents and their agencies, the effect is hard to miss.

Jamie Clements, a Temperance-based travel agent who owns and operates an agency with her husband, TC, said the pandemic’s impact on business has been emotionally and financially draining.

“It feels like it’s been a two step forward, a step backward situation for the travel industry,” she said.

Toll on an industry

The Clements of Temperance started their business – Cruise Planners TC and Jamie Clements – almost eight years ago, transitioning from a career in law enforcement.

TC, a former Bedford Township administrator, will soon take office as the Republican representative of the 56th District, which covers most of the communities in the South County.

“We always like to joke that we traded homicides for vacations,” Clements said.

Benefiting from more than 1,000 customers in the area, Clements said she and her husband love being able to offer tips and advice to help people create lasting memories.

They also build relationships with customers, learning their likes and dislikes, often helping shape milestones like birthdays and other special days.

“I travel by proxy through every customer I can send on a trip,” she said. “It’s exciting to help them create memories. We get to know them.

But the pandemic has taken a heavy toll, she said. She and TC had put money aside before the pandemic, which has supported the company.

“We’re going to be okay financially, but that’s coming from the savings that we had set aside,” Clements said.

Jamie’s agency is commission-based, which means she doesn’t charge outright fees for the services. Instead, revenue is generated from referral fees received from sites and shipping companies.

Most travel agents operate the same, Clements said, adding that the structure is similar to how online services like Expedia and Travelocity make money.

According to a study by the American Society of Travel Advisers (ASTA), around 71% of travel agencies and agents face job closure or loss as the pandemic rages on.

More than three-quarters of the association’s members have experienced time off or job loss due to the travel slowdown, many citing a lack of income or access to relief funds, according to the organization.

The tax revenues of state, local and federal entities also suffer. According to the USTA, these entities lost $ 61.8 billion generally generated by the travel industry.

Use their knowledge

While some forecasts for the industry are dire, Clements says travel agents are performing a necessary function, especially during the pandemic.

“Normal tinkerers (travelers) who jump online don’t know what’s open,” Clements said. “We have the best information because it’s our livelihood.

“We have to stay on top of the restrictions. “

For those wishing to travel, agents can also provide valuable information on transportation services that meet social distancing guidelines or prioritize safety.

“We know which airlines are blocking seats and which are taking people on like sardines,” she added.

Right now, resorts, venues and airlines capable of operating are offering price incentives to lure travelers looking for a sense of escape, Clements said.

She recently booked a trip to the Caribbean for a group of people whose total cost is about $ 1,600 less per couple than a year ago.

“Beach resorts and destinations (in the Caribbean) are open for business, and they are happy and excited to welcome visitors,” she said.

The advantage of bringing in an agent is that they will be able to quickly identify ways to mitigate the cost of a trip, she said.

“There is a misconception that a travel agent will end up costing you more,” Clements said. “We are proud to help you save money.

Travel trends

Government restrictions caused by the pandemic are increasing at home and abroad.

One trend seen by Clements is a sharp drop in travel to popular destinations like Europe and some places in California. Cruises, a once popular and reliable travel company, have also dried up, she added.

Clements said that, for the most part, agents don’t even reserve places on ships until Christmas next year or later.

“We’ve had to move so many cruises (bookings) – I’m not even looking at spring or summer,” she said. “There is no point in giving people hope.”

There has also been a sharp drop in travel to Canada, which has closed its border to those traveling by car, according to Clements. Considering Monroe County’s location, the neighboring country was also a frequent destination for local travelers.

But it is possible to travel, Clements said, adding that it is a common misconception that everywhere is closed for business.

“The travel industry is always open for business,” Clements said. “You can always go sit by a pool and have a drink. It is still possible to have a reasonable and close to normal travel experience. “

Customers primarily book trips to destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as some theme parks in Florida, according to Clements.

Clement said his agency has booked a surprising amount of vacation travel, with many clients looking for some sort of break after months of being relatively stationary at home.

“They don’t care about the cost or the deal, they just want to go for Christmas,” she said.

When it comes to whether or not it’s safe to travel, Clements said it’s not a simple yes or no answer.

“Everyone’s situation is different,” she said. The agents “are not naive that the virus is real. … I don’t want anyone to have a false sense of security.

But for clients looking to self-quarantine or socially move away to a sunnier or warmer location, the main concern is whether they are in good health and have assessed their unique situation, Clements said.

“I would feel comfortable helping them make these travel plans,” she added. “If you don’t fall into a high risk category… you might be a good candidate to travel sooner or later. “

Rebound

Clements is confident the travel industry will rebound with vaccinations on the horizon and the prospect of a return to normal not far behind.

But she knows that some agents and travel agencies may not be as lucky as she and her husband’s agency.

“I’m worried about travel agents who don’t have the kind of rainy day fund that my husband and I have,” she said.

According to ASTA, since people can travel more widely, it could take three to 12 months for business revenues to reach near pre-pandemic levels after bookings resume.

About 40% of Americans don’t plan to travel until a vaccine is available, according to the latest USTA report. But 62% of Americans plan to take a trip in the next few months.

As vaccinations are approved nationally and internationally, officers are increasingly enthusiastic about returning to work.

The most recent USTA report found that 43% of those professionals felt an increase in hope last month from 38% in October.

Clements says some customers are looking forward to broader travel opportunities in the future. But she is not trying to give false hope.

Customers “appreciate our honesty,” she said. “There is a sense of passion that the summer of 2021 may bring us some containment (of the virus), which will be a bright spot for travel.”


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