Catalin Mogoseanu, Click2Travel Romania GM, and president of ASTA’s Romania chapter.
Agents volunteering their services in case of emergency through an American Society of Travel Agents program are motivated by empathy for impacted travelers, the service nature of their profession and a desire to demonstrate how valuable a resource travel professionals can be.
ASTA recently added a page to its website that lists contact information for members who have volunteered to be available to any traveler needing help in case of a terror attack or other disruptive event. Any consumer can contact one of these agent volunteers, regardless of how they originally booked their trip.
TMR reached out to the agents who volunteered to explore their motivation and hopes for the program.
Julie Mautner is the owner of Provence Post Travel in Provence, France, specializing in local immersive experiences. She said the recent attacks in her country make the ASTA program “very close and personal. My expertise and specialty is the south of France and I always tell my clients, ‘I’ve got your back.’ If anything goes wrong I want to be there—by email, phone, text...or in person—to help sort it out.”
Julie Mautner, Provence Post Travel
Those same sentiments were shared a transatlantic flight away in Chicago by Brian R. Chapin, Ensemble Travel Group senior director of Air & Travel Solutions. “In my case it hit a bit close to home; I was talking with someone who had friends in Nice [during the recent attack] and not far away from the tragedy. I just happened to mention that I was home that evening and would be happy to help.”
Service philosophy and expertise kick in
Other volunteers, though, had no immediate connection to any of the recent events—just a travel professional’s abiding desire to serve others. “It’s the right thing to do and it didn't take much thought to offer to possibly help other folks in need of assistance,” said Susan Aft, president of Discount Travel and Cruise in Atlanta.
“The horrendous news of terrible things happening across the globe seems to be pouring in lately at a far higher level than usual,” said Cheryl Patterson, Deep Blue Adventures, Swanton, Ohio. “It upsets me deeply and I feel useless and helpless most of the time. “When this call came in it gave me the opportunity in a tiny way to step up and use the experience, knowledge and tools I have to possibly help someone get home and/or reach their loved ones.”
“We are all one family,” said Catalin Mogoseanu, general manager of Click2Travel Romania, and president of ASTA’s Romania chapter. “This is the right thing to do. The change in making the world a safer and better place starts with each one of us.”
Like all the agents contacted, Click2Travel Romania will not be charging any fees, Mogoseanu said. “We serve. How can we charge somebody struck by disaster?”
“Although this situation was much more tragic, it brought back memories of the volcano eruption a few years ago that disrupted air travel within Europe. That was over a weekend, and I got calls from co-workers and friends and helped them find the quickest way home,” said Chapin at Air & Travel Solutions. “For many professionals in our business, helping others just comes naturally. It’s one of the reasons we’re in the industry in the first place. And when people are going through a crisis, that desire to help just kicks in even stronger.”
Plus, of course, travel professionals actually can be of great assistance. “In a crisis, a travel agent can offer very educated counsel and assistance on next steps, or ways to get home.”
“When I saw the appeal for volunteers I hesitated at first, fearful that it might be something I couldn't handle,” said Mautner in Provence. “Then I realized it's better to volunteer than not. If I can't help a traveler in trouble solve a problem, I have a huge network and I'll know who can.”
When immediate care is needed, “who can better help than an agent who is connected to the GDS and can offer alternatives to travel quickly?” said Carol McConnell, owner of Around the Globe Travel in Huntington Beach, CA.
An opportunity to showcase agents
Indeed, McConnell said, ASTA’s program is a unique opportunity “to promote the fact that travel agents are still your best source of travel and assistance.”
Patterson called the idea “brilliant.” ASTA is “pooling together travel professionals that have already met industry standards and criteria who have the know-how to help when it is needed,” she said. “Sharing a place where people can go and put themselves in the hands of a professional they can trust in an hour of need is an amazing resource for the traveling public.”
“Even if just a few people use this response line, their perspective will change forever. My hope is word gets out far and wide,” Patterson said.
Chapin agreed. “The initiative very much advocates and showcases the role and importance of travel agents. Travel agents are professionals and experts at what they do.”
“It probably will give ASTA some very good PR, which will help ASTA recruit agents and show the traveling public that ASTA members back each other up,” said Richard Schwartz, owner of Dream Travel in Fredericksburg, VA and co-chair of NACTA’s Richmond, VA, chapter.
Mogoseanu, who comes from a family of diplomats, reasoned more broadly that by volunteering a safety net for travelers, perhaps in their own small way, travel agents can contribute to the eventual eradication of hate crimes and terrorist events.
“No crazy, fanatic, madman must influence people's freedom to travel, as it is travel that helps people understand the world and in the end unites us in lasting friendships,” he said.