It was the middle of the night when Laurie Reitman got a call from one of her clients. The U.S. had just announced new border restrictions in order to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), sparking confusion and panic among travelers.
The owner of Laurie Likes Travel, an affiliate of Travel Experts, a Virtuoso Agency, in Frisco, Texas, received a call from her client Debbie, whose daughter was a medical resident in Africa with a university group, and asked Reitman if she could help.
“Everyone was panicking and I was getting a lot of calls before the details were clear,” Reitman told Travel Market Report.
She immediately stepped into action.
The first step was calling her air service to arrange plans to get her from where she was in The Bush to the Nairobi airport. Then Reitman reached out to Micato, a safari tour operator, on their emergency number. She said Mercado went “above and beyond” in helping her, and within the hour, they had arranged to get the daughter to Nairobi and even paid for her transport and hotel room – all thanks to their relationship with Reitman.
As it turns out, the group leader was also on the phone making new travel arrangements. While the daughter ultimately went home with the group, Reitman said her work allowed for the parents to go to sleep with peace of mind.
It turns out that situation became one of many. Reitman had a number of calls from clients’ with sons and daughters and nieces and nephews studying in Italy. While one of the epicenter for coronavirus began to form in Northern Italy, the situation eventually became so dire all of Italy was contained.
“We were able to make arrangements for my client’s nephew for Florence to Rome, and then from Rome to Newark.” When his flight from Florence to Rome got cancelled, the airline suggested taking a bus to Bologna. But since the airport is also small, Reitman didn’t think it was a good idea, so “we jumped into action and arranged a driver to take him from Florence to Rome, but we put him up at a hotel.”
“It was stressful for everyone,” Reitman said. “It’s a lot moving parts.”
That came to describe the following days, as Reitman would have a client on one line in one ear and her air service on the other line in another ear, on the phone back and forth to rearrange flights.
While Reitman’s company didn’t book either study abroad trip, she’s “optimistic it will garner me more business, I’ve even had some referrals already.”
The other benefit Reitman’s clients had – and anyone working with an agent – is “we know the ins and outs of what people are doing and can give good advice, whether they should postpone or wait it out.”
“A number of clients called when this started and wanted to change or cancel, and sometimes it’s better for them to wait and see what happens. Early on some suppliers weren’t doing anything, so if they waited, the cruise and tour canceled sometimes the terms are better and they could get 125% back instead of less.”
Reitman said 90% of her clients are rebooking trips, rather than flat out cancelling, “sometimes it’s the best option some suppliers are being very generous, like cruise lines.”
While the coronavirus pandemic impact of travel has made headlines all over the world, Reitman isn’t worried about the future.
“Travel will come back; people won’t stay home. I think there will be a huge pent up demand for travel in 2021.”
She’s even had a number of clients that have canceled trips already choosing to book for 2021 to secure prime availability. As river cruise lines were already predicting a strong 2021, Reitman said some of the bookings are already tight – a good sign things will bounce back.