Part II – The Present
Having been featured in Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine in December 2019, as a top advisor from
Avenue Two Travel, one of the most prestigious luxury travel agencies in the USA, I had started the year with a brilliant group of clients and more than $750,000 in booked trips for 2020 and beyond. It should have been an amazing year – but then as we all know, in February, everything started to change due to COVID-19.
We are now in our sixth month of dealing with COVID-19 across the globe and the travel and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest impacted world-wide. Travel Weekly, the travel industry’s trusted voice shared "The travel and tourism industry accounts for 38% of all U.S. jobs lost so far, and travel companies, 83% of which are small businesses remain particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the health crisis.”
I was fortunate not to have any clients traveling when the borders started closing in around us and everyone was having to scramble to get their travelers back home before airline routes were closed and it became extremely difficult. I did, however have many trips planned for the upcoming weeks and months that needed to be canceled and/or rescheduled, refunds or credits obtained and trips unraveled which was disheartening, but it was also important to take care of my clients so I spent many hours on the phone with partners undoing all the work that I had done to plan the trips.
As one of the owners of Avenue Two Travel described the situation “imagine walking into your bosses office one morning and being told that you had to undo all the work you had completed for the past six months, give back all the pay-checks for that same period and then work just as hard for the next six months for no pay”. That was the situation for all Travel Advisors and so many of our partners in the Travel industry. I had trips of my own to Belgium, Netherlands, Russia, Iceland and a cruise from San Francisco to Vancouver all cancelled in the first three months of COVID, so was very aware of just how disappointing it was for my clients to see their long awaited trips be put on hold for some future time.
As I was cancelling and re-scheduling these trips, I remained optimistic that perhaps by June or July we would start to see things improve, as appeared to be in happening in some of the early hard hit countries, such as Italy. Unfortunately, that has not been the situation in the USA, and we continue to struggle as a nation to see consistently improving data and I am continuing to cancel and reschedule trips. I never would have dreamed that my USA passport would be so unwelcome in over 120 countries.
I have been fortunate to have a few of my clients travel by road to some wonderful destinations, and others who are planning for future travel, but these are primarily for domestic travel, or for dates far out into the future. This is completely understandable with COVID data continuing to change on a daily basis and travel restrictions subject to change with less than 24 hours’ notice in some countries. Everyone’s comfort level with COVID is different, and while I will always be here and ready to assist anyone who does want to travel or plan travel at this time, I do not want to encourage any of my clients or future clients to plan travel until they are comfortable with the situation and are ready to so.
It isn’t always easy to start each week knowing that nothing much has changed from the week before, and that we are still in a holding pattern in the travel industry at this time, and likely will be for several more months. I have so many friends and colleagues who have been furloughed or in some cases lost their jobs as a result of COVID and there are many more of us in the industry who are doing everything possible to stay strong, continue to learn more about destinations and unique experiences, as well as keep up with the continually changing regulations in relation to COVID and travel, while earning little or no income. Personally, I remain optimistic that travel will return in 2021 and while it may take several years for it to recover, it will!
Travelers will seek out the services of a professional Travel Advisor to partner with them to plan their travels and negotiate through the myriad of new entry requirements which differ on a country by country basis. I believe that many travelers who had booked vacations independently through on-line travel companies, now have a greater understanding of how valuable the relationships travel advisors have with hoteliers, tour operators and guides are to their travel experience. From my own past travels, I know that I missed out on some incredible experiences because I didn’t know the right person in the right place – I thought I could plan my trips independently too! Now, I know better and work with brilliant partners all over the world. The travel industry is all about relationships and knowing who to ask!
I also hope that travel will return in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, so that we don’t undo the benefits that this break in travel has provided to those areas that were suffering from over-tourism. More on the future in Part III coming soon!
What IS very difficult today is to read about how under-tourism in some regions of the world is unravelling so much of the progress made in past years as many of these countries have developed a significant tourism industry that has improved the standard of living, reducing the number of individuals living below the poverty line and decreasing the child morbidity numbers.
When I was fortunate enough to travel to Rwanda with an amazing partner in 2019, and trek to see the Mountain Gorillas for a second time, the experience was very different than it had been eight years earlier, when I was in the country working on public health programs.
It was an incredible trip staying at Magashi and Bisate Lodges, but experiencing the progress made by the Rwandans was just as special. In Kigali, the road systems were greatly improved, the streets were safe to explore, yes, even as a solo female traveler, and according to WHO data, the child morbidity rates have continued to decrease. I visited three small businesses that were providing incomes for multiple families. An art studio, a jewelry store that only uses recycled goods and a basket making cooperative run by a young Dutchman who started it to provide a way for women who had lost limbs in the genocide to earn a living for their families as so many had lost their husbands during the genocide. Rwanda needs its tourist industry to help support the progress it has worked so hard to achieve since the tragic events of 1994.
It is a similar story in so many countries who have seen their economic progress improve as a result of growth in their tourism industry, so when our travel all came to a sudden halt back in February, so did that progress. With the number of months continuing to grow without any sign of incoming tourists, the situation becomes more tenuous by the day in some areas. “The World Food Programme has shared that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is disrupting the world as we knew it, with a heavy toll on human lives and economic activities. Its rapid global spread is threatening to affect millions of people already made vulnerable by food insecurity, malnutrition and the effects of conflict and other disasters”
I hope that by sharing some of my thoughts, I will encourage you to travel again when the time is right for you and you feel safe doing so, but also that it might inspire you to think about your bucket list in more depth. Why do you want travel to that country? What do you want to see or explore? Do you want to explore the culture a little more deeply than you might have in the past?
Finally, in the present times, I would love to inspire one or more readers to reach out to me to find out how you can provide some support to a local community program in a country you have visited or are planning to visit. So many of our amazing travel partners are advocates for sustainable and eco-friendly travel opportunities. They are also intimately involved in local community programs and have gone to some incredible lengths to maintain that support even when their income has also come to an abrupt halt. Philanthropic partners, such as The Royal Chundu in Zambia have created an online store for their linens and table accessories made in the local community.
Others are supporting food programs in poorer neighborhoods with their guides making food deliveries. Safari lodges in Africa are continuing to support anti-poaching efforts to protect the wildlife from being hunted for bush meat. In these current times, I would love to be a resource for you if you are interested in supporting a local program in a community that holds a place in your heart from prior travels or somewhere that is on your bucket list for the future. I can connect you to ongoing initiatives supporting those directly impacted by the abrupt stop of the travel industry.
Travel will come back – for the travelers among us, it is in our blood and we are ready and waiting to go when it is right for us to do so. I know so many of you already support wonderful causes at home and/or abroad and some of you may also be struggling at this time, but if you can spare some additional funds at this time to support a program in a location of interest, please do reach out to me. If you need a little extra inspiration please read my short blog post from when I was last in Ethiopia in 2008.