As this fitful, exasperating, yo-yo of a year nears its close, travel advisors find themselves, perhaps to their surprise, full of gratitude.
Yes, 2021 has been marked by endless aggravations and setbacks on the business front – infuriatingly long hold times; exhausting labor-intensive re-bookings; the closing, opening and re-closing of borders, and ever-shifting Covid requirements, to name a few. Yet in a year like no other – make that two years like no other – on Thanksgiving eve travel advisors were more than willing to express their abundant thanks.
Merely enduring all the turmoil, all the uncertainty, all the hours of unpaid work can make one grateful for the simplest of things. “I’m thankful I can still laugh,” said Ruth Rudnick Travel Showcase in Belmont, MA.
The fact of living through a deadly pandemic also gives rise to a deep appreciation for the basics of life, like health.
“I’m grateful that myself and my husband – because we’re a little older – that we made it through healthy,” said Diane Fudge of All Inclusive Travel Concierge in Tampa Bay.
LuAnn Lisell of Lisell Travel in Plano, TX, said her gratitude list is topped by “the most important things in my life – good health, a loving family and friends.”
Julie Hill, president of Colony Travel Consultants in Deptford, NJ, expressed her thanks succinctly: “On the eve of Thanksgiving, I can tell you I am blessed and grateful to have my family and their support around me. I am thankful that I am still here to sell you travel.”
Cynthia Bacon of Cruises and Land in Willits, CA, said she was grateful that her husband and her brother, both of whom contracted Covid, did not succumb to the disease. “Because of their health situations, if they had not gotten the Covid vaccination, they might not have survived. I’m thankful we’re all hale and healthy.”
Outlasting the shutdown
Survival on the business front also was cause for deep gratitude. “I’m grateful I can pay my bills, grateful I made it through business-wise; a lot didn’t,” Fudge said.
Nadia Sparkle Henry of Travel With Sparkle in W. Orange, NJ, also rejoiced that her business survived. “I’m thankful for being able to keep my doors open through the pandemic. For six or seven months I was totally without pay. I’m grateful that the year before I did really well, and I was able to sustain my business, unlike some colleagues.
“Also, I’m a group specialist. I’m thankful I didn’t give up FITs to sell only groups. Groups were nonexistent for a long time,” Henry added.
The resumption of travel
While travel has been an on-again, off-again, on-again proposition this year, by late fall bookings were in the midst of a huge rebound. Clearly, that’s something to give thanks for, advisors agreed.
“I’m grateful that my business seems to be really booming and that the luxury market is probably 80% of what I’m doing; pre-Covid it was probably 50%,” Fudge said. “My first half of November was the best two weeks I’ve had in a year and a half or two years.”
Rudnick too was thankful for the uptick in bookings, as well as for a shift in the nature of client requests. “I see individual travelers, romance travelers, family travelers wanting not just to vacation, but to vacation on a more in-depth exploratory level,” Rudnick said.
“I have a client who said, ‘I didn’t vacation at all during the pandemic, so I’m going to take three times the vacations now, because I can, and I want to.’ Isn’t that encouraging?” Rudnick added.
The world opens up
News this week of renewed travel disruptions in Europe was an unwelcome reminder that Covid casts a long shadow. But after the strict travel shutdowns that went before, advisors are deeply thankful for the re-opening of travel around the globe and for the Covid immunizations making that possible.
“I’m grateful that we finally are moving forward as far as more countries open up. The vaccine is allowing clients to move freely,” Henry said.
For her part, Bacon took advantage of the re-opening of travel to undertake the adventure of a lifetime this fall, a solo 74-day hiking and backpacking trip through Europe (at age 61!). Bacon said she appreciated simply being able to travel again – “It was amazing!” – and sharing her experiences with her clients.
Loyal clients also rank high on advisors’ gratitude lists this year. Laurel Perry, an advisor in Clearwater, FL, for Ciao Bambino, said she was grateful “that all of my clients stuck with me through the pandemic, and they’re all coming back.”
Bacon said she too was happy that her clients were calling her again. “I’m grateful my guests want to travel even with the restrictions. They’re ready to go.”
A chance to regroup, rebuild & grow
Though it can feel strange to say as much, even a pandemic yields gifts, at least if you’re among the lucky ones. Travel advisors said that, in retrospect, they appreciated the downtime they had during the months when travel was at a standstill.
“I’m thankful that 2020, even though it was a hard year, really helped me refocus,” said Nicole Sicard of Paradise Haven Travels in Hampton, GA.
“It helped me understand my business and join up with a host agency that has been invaluable. I say this cautiously because many lost their lives, their jobs, but I feel that if we had not stopped, I wouldn’t have the knowledge, connections, and information I have today.”
Henry also appreciated the break. “I got time to reflect and be closer to my family and to put my business model together a little differently. I also had time to put together a small course on group travel and to re-evaluate a marketing plan. I’m grateful I had that time to invest in my family and my business.”
Positioned for a bright future
Lisell said she was feeling blessed to have a travel agency and a team that is “positioned to grow,” thanks in part to the break-in business.
“The foundation of the agency has been reinforced – thank you Covid-19 for the time – and our clients are looking forward to experiencing all the world has to offer. Future bookings for 2022, 2023, and 2024 exceed levels we have experienced in the past,” Lisell said.
Finally, in a year when staffing shortages have plagued businesses everywhere, Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of EMBARK Beyond in New York City, said he was “overwhelmed by the blessing of being surrounded by incredible professionals who have taken a risk on growing a young company a thousand-fold during the course of the most tumultuous time our industry has ever seen, and the great success we have thus far achieved with them.”