I started my business about three and a half years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew one thing, I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it was successful. I had friends tell me I shouldn’t quit my full time job and dedicate myself to my business. “Do travel agencies still exist? Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes! If I am ever going to start a business, now is the time. I felt like I was getting too old and my employer said I had a home to come back to if I ever needed it. This was my dream and so I ran with it. I love to travel and I love to help people travel. Travel agencies not only exist, they are in demand. It has been an amazing experience so far and I have been very fortunate. I added a Disney specialist. Business was fantastic.
Most people do not realize that for the majority of what we do, we don’t get paid until very close to or even after a client travels. Most of what we had booked over the last twelve months was almost immediately wiped out. A years worth of trips gone and no income to show for it. Most of our suppliers have been amazing to work with and done all they can to help but they are suffering with millions of cancellations. Cruise ships are sitting empty. Resorts are severely limited. Tours, hotels, trains, you name it, the travel and tourism industry is hurting and it will be a while before it recovers fully.
My dream became a nightmare.
Now replace travel with any number of other industries. Replace my dream with theirs. I live in the Short Pump area of Virginia. Too many locally owned businesses are gone. Several major chain businesses are gone too. All of these businesses and all the jobs they created gone due to something that is completely beyond their control.
Everyone is looking toward Washington for help right now. In the early stages I was hopeful. They passed the Payroll Protection Program and while it was far too short a time it was valuable. They extended and improved unemployment. They were asking people to stay home and not work. They were shutting down businesses for the safety of the masses. This was the right move in my opinion. Take the right actions early and we suffer less later. So what happened?
Why have our representatives failed us? I refuse to call them leaders. Leadership is action not position and their actions, both sides, have shown that the needs of the people are not as important as the consolidation of power for themselves. Social media is abound with people talking about how their chosen candidate is wonderful and how the other side is terrible. The truth is far more sad. Both sides care only about themselves and their power. People are suffering. More people will lose their homes, their jobs, their businesses and some will lose their lives. And what does Congress do? They point fingers and refuse to do what is necessary to help the people.
In spite of all this, people have been booking trips into 2021 and 2022 over the last month. They want something to look forward to and I am feeling more confident that we are headed toward better days. I feel confident that my agency will be one of the fortunate ones that make it through to the other end. Cruise lines have recently submitted their recommendations for sailing safely to the CDC and the no sail order is close to being lifted. There are a ton of great resorts that have put protocols in place to ensure safety of their guests. As it has in the past, the travel and tourism industry has adapted to the situation.
I have adapted as well. Its been tough but I am in this for the long haul. I have expanded my knowledge and found suppliers I like that provide more domestic options like cabins and houses. There are a ton of great resort options available and I can guide you to make sure you meet the criteria for traveling. Options for 2021 and 2022 are better than ever before and prices are as low as they have ever been. It’s time to find something to look forward to. I am here and I can help.
The phone rings. Fortunately this has been happening more as of late. Maybe its because people are starting to go stir crazy from being confined. Maybe it's because people are feeling more confident that we are starting to get past this pandemic. It's probably a combination of both. Demand for planning trips for 2021 has been steadily growing and for that I am thankful.
“Thanks for calling We Book Travel, this is Jesse, how can I help?”
It’s a previous client.
I am a sales person. But I am also a relationship builder. Over the first month of the lockdown I received calls from clients just checking on me. I have always felt like I was pretty good at building relationships but these calls still catch me off guard. Yes, our industry has been hit very hard but ours isn’t the only one. More than 30 million people are sitting on the sidelines unable to work. Small businesses are struggling to stay afloat all over the country. Yet, these people took the time to call me just because they care. I am not an emotional guy but these calls make me feel a certain way. There must be dust in the air. However, I know what’s coming next.
“How are you?”
The most rhetorical question ever asked. Think back to every call you have answered or made. “How are you?” is a question that factors in most of them and yet, no one is really looking for an answer. However, at this moment, the standard “Fine, how are you?” feels inadequate.
How am I? I am angry.
It is no ones fault but I just hit my three year anniversary of starting this journey and I am having a hard time accepting that something so completely outside of my control has decimated my business. It would be easily to accept had I done something wrong or made a critical mistake. That’s just not the case. Looking back on the last 3 years, prior to this pandemic, we have grown significantly. It hasn’t been perfect but the mistakes made were all learning opportunities and not crippling. There was so much I didn't know when I started and still quite a bit I don't know now, but I could confidently say we have been successful. Now, I am almost back to square one and on a razor’s edge between survival and total failure.
How am I? I am sad.
So many of my colleagues, people I consider friends, have been directly impacted by Covid-19. It's not just their businesses, it's their lives. They have friends and family who have been sick and died due to this virus. We all tend to live in a bubble and worry most about what impacts us directly. Maybe thats how we cope because the alternative is worse.
How am I? I am lonely.
We are social beings at heart. We crave interaction on some level. Social media and video chatting can only do so much. My wife and I were supposed to have our 25th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii. This had to be put aside for the time being. For good reason of course but still something we were looking forward to. I am used to interacting with people several times throughout the day. I am likely driving my wife insane. She is driving me insane too (don't tell her I said so). We need others, travel helps us fulfill that need and that just can’t happen now.
How am I? I am scared.
These are a time of uncertainty and uncertainty breeds fear. No one knows when this will end. We know that it will but at what long term cost. How many people must suffer? Rationally I know that things will improve but fear isn’t rational and neither am I right now.
How am I? I am disappointed.
Surprise would have been a good word to describe my reaction to the Federal Governments initial response with the passage of the CARES Act. It appeared that they had done something good and in a bipartisan manner. But all I see now are politicians passing the buck. So many people are still waiting for the relief that was promised. The disaster loan advances for $10,000 became far less. The delivery of these advances promised within a few days stretched on into weeks. The loans themselves for many are just another unfulfilled promise. The Payroll Protection Program, designed to help small businesses, went to large companies (many of whom had to return the funds) and the little guy was left out on the cold. Now both programs are out of money and new legislation is being debated with battle lines drawn. Several states still have not figured out how to deliver the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and good people are struggling to make ends meet. I don't care which side of the aisle you stand on, they don't stand in the same aisles as we do.
How am I? I am ashamed and proud.
While many companies have acted admirably too many have chosen positions that leave clients out in the cold without refunds for unfulfilled travel. I wont point fingers, but they (and their former clients) know who they are. I am ashamed for our industry that while few, these companies put a blight on all of us. At the same time that shame only extends so far. My colleagues have answered the call to help their clients at a pace and fury that will help elevate us all. Travel advisors have proven time and again that we will not allow our clients to suffer, we will stand up for them and do all we can to help.
How am I? I am hopeful.
I have been on conference calls with cruise lines and resorts all over the world. The plans they have to facilitate reopening have been inspirational. They are looking at the problem from all directions and creating processes and plans to ensure that their guests, their employees and their communities are protected to the fullest extent possible. They aren’t going down without a fight. I plan to fight too.
How am I? I am excited.
I am looking forward to my next trip. It's going to be different. We will have to adapt. People keep talking about “the new normal” and boy do I hate that phrase. It is important that we improvise, adapt and overcome. The challenge of crafting solutions to this new reality can be exciting. Yes, we would have preferred that it hadn’t been necessary but wishing for something to be true will not make it so. Burying our collective heads in the sand will not make things better. We must do what we do best and that is rise to the challenge.
How am I?
Well, this is an interesting question isn’t it? Rhetorical as it may be, it's the question that has been keeping me up at night. I am all the above and more. My answer to my client however is “I am hanging in there, how are you and your family?” I ask because I really do care. It's part of relationship building. It's a tough time for us all but together we can and will overcome.
How are you?