Agents Divided Over Obama Victory

by Robin Amster

Like the rest of the country, travel agents having been holding their breath in the interminable run-up to this week’s presidential election. Now that the results are in, the obvious question is this: Will the Obama victory prove to be good news or bad news for travel and for those in the business of selling retail travel?

Here’s what travel agents around the country told us.

Gabriel Garavanian

Spending on travel: ‘It’s a wash’
“During the last two months people have been holding back, but now that the election is over I don’t think the result will have much of an effect. It’s a neutral; a wash. There are people working for government contractors who will be nervous about spending, but then others will be opening up their wallets.” – Gabriel Garavanian, owner, Garavanian Travel, North Chelmsford, Mass.

John Schmitt Jr.
john schmitt

Consumer confidence: stronger & better
“I’m in Michigan, an auto industry state. The people here feel they were saved by President Obama [with the auto industry bailout]. Everyone is giving Obama credit; they feel stronger and better with him in office. They might feel a greater sense of security and from that standpoint they will have more confidence.” – John Schmitt Jr., CTC, vice president / director of sales & marketing, Superior & Frankenmuth (Mich.) Travel Service

Bad for small business
“This election result is not good for small business because of the health care issue. People who have employees will let staff go and will hire independent contractors instead or will not hire at all. Most agencies like myself don’t work on a huge profit margin and now to have to consider health care for staff — it won’t happen. Health care is big.” – Barbara Jathas, DS, owner, Skyway Travel Service, Ossining, N.Y.

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg

Global stability is key
“The global economy and global political issues are a concern. Face-to-face contact is so important for business. We don’t want to have a huge checklist of places that people don’t feel comfortable going to.” – Jennifer Wilson-Buttitieg, co-president, Valerie Wilson Travel, New York

Geopolitics: feeling safe and welcome
“I was in Turkey right after Obama took office in 2008 and everyone from the taxi driver to the hotel people was elated. These people had great hope and thought the U.S. would be more a part of the world community. That made me keenly aware that what happens here in the U.S. affects the rest of the world. And it opened my eyes to how disliked the former president was. While we have to watch out for the U.S., we need to recognize that we’re part of a larger community. That’s imperative when you sell travel for a living. People have to feel safe and welcome.” – Debbi Calabrese, CTC, president, Embassy Travel, Hopewell Junction, N.Y.

Congressional gridlock an issue
“In having Obama reelected, the status quo was preserved. I hope that people will feel confident there will be changes and compromises reached [in Washington]. If not, they won’t feel confident to spend their dollars.” – Jennifer Wilson-Buttitieg

Obamacare: the big unknown
“We’re probably one of the rare medium-sized agencies that still provide health care for our employees, and it’s the unknown that’s a little scary in terms of health insurance issues for our agency. If I get to a point where I can’t offer health insurance, that will have a big impact on staffing. For other businesses, if they are forced to make financial changes because of health insurance, will they cut back in other places, like travel?” – John Schmitt Jr., CTC

‘Shaky’ internationally
“The talking heads this morning said that congratulations [to President Obama] are pouring in from all over the world. That’s because we have continuity, and at the moment we are not rocking the boat. However, the international platform I think is a little shaky, certainly when it comes to the stock market. Wall Street threw out a message and the president needs to look at that carefully.” –  Nancy Strong, CTC, CEO, Strong Travel, Dallas

DOT: changing of the guard
“A concern is that we don’t know who the new Secretary of Transportation will be. Secretary [Ray] LaHood has been an advocate for airline passenger rights, disclosure on baggage fees. He has really worked for the best interest of travel. Ironically, he was a Republican in a Democratic administration. He has made it clear that he is not continuing in his role, so I’m very curious to know who will be taking over.” – Jennifer Wilson-Buttitieg

Regulation and small business

Paul Seiferth
paul seiferth

“Small businesses have concerns over rules and regulations and Obamacare. I see small businesses more affected in a negative way than big business. It’s a challenge for anyone that owns a small business, not just in travel. A lot of times I’ll be dealing with another small business and they’ll tell me they’re not spending money, so it’s a trickle-down effect.” – Paul Seiferth, president, Terra Travel, Phoenix

‘Better go while we can’
“The stock market is down, jobs are uncertain. I can’t see leisure travel improving as a result of the election. It’s a neutral. Everyone is so disgusted they just want to go. I got a call yesterday for a luxury trip, and the client said, ‘We’d better go while we can.’” – Barbara Jathas, DS, owner, Skyway Travel Service, Ossining, N.Y.

Debbi Calabrese
debbie calabrese

A little more optimism
“Considering the majority has now spoken, we’ll see a little more optimism. People are relieved the election is over. Those disappointed in the election result will expect the status quo. Those happy with it will be looking forward. We typically see bookings three to five months out, and we’ve got a number of bookings on for 2013 – a lot of retirees, but also a lot of Disney.” – Debbi Calabrese, CTC, president, Embassy Travel, Hopewell Junction, N.Y.

Checks & balances in action

Amber Blecker
amber blecker

“In general, we’ve stayed with the status quo – nothing is changing in Congress. The likelihood of a major tax increase is diminished because the House stayed in Republican hands. I think some compromise will be reached. The stock market, despite what happened today, tends to like a divided Congress – it likes the checks and balances. We focus so much on the presidential election, but the control is in Congress’s hands.” – Amber Blecker, CruiseOne, Aurora, Colo.

Tax refunds at stake
“Where you will see how things might be affected is with what I call the ‘tax return people.’ These are people that travel every April and May after receiving their tax refund. Assuming they’ll get the same refund this year, they’ll travel.” – Gabriel Garavanian

Air travel costs: don’t expect action
“I’m not seeing people hesitating to travel in general or to travel overseas because of security issues. It’s more of a cost issue. The consolidation of the airlines is a huge factor that is driving travel costs up. The government is unwilling to do anything about it. Congress should have stepped in long ago, but I’m not sure they ever will.” – Amber Blecker

Good either way
“The outlook for leisure travel is good either way, whether it was an Obama or Romney win. About three weeks before the election we saw a drop-off, but we think we’ll be back in the saddle now. Around election time the consumer is ambivalent about making plans but whichever outcome they wanted, consumers are pretty resilient.” – John Schmitt Jr., CTC

Glad it’s over
“People were waiting for the election to be over. Those that have money are spending it; they’re going to go someplace.” – Gabriel Garavanian

$6 billion wasted
“We spent $6 billion to get these people elected – that’s the amount spent on all campaigns by both parties. And basically we have the same thing as we did before — a Democratic president, one half of the house Democratic and the other half Republican.” – Paul Seiferth

Impact of higher taxes
“People realize that their money may be going in another direction — to taxes and capital gains — therefore they’ll spend it on great trips while they can. The idea is ‘spend while you can, otherwise the government is going to take it.’ Luxury travel will be where you’ll see the money being spent.” – Nancy Strong, CTC, CEO, Strong Travel, Dallas

Maria Lenhart contributed to this story.

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