COVID-19: Travel agencies see large economic impact
Beth Schulberg might be able to weather the storm and the economic distress whirling throughout travel agencies, but not everyone will be so lucky — and she knows it.
It's no secret that concerns surrounding COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are affecting travel after numerous events, flights and cruises have been cancelled.
Schulberg, who owns Cruise & Travel Specialists on Meadows Road in Lake Oswego, said travel advisors are getting hit hard.
Before President Donald Trump announced last night that travel from Europe to the United States was banned for the next 30 days — excluding the United Kingdom — in what Schulberg referred to as a confusing message because it was unclear if Americans could return home, she said people were still traveling.
Schulberg said she had 70 people who signed up to go on a Viking Cruise in a month, but Viking Cruises cancelled operations through the end of April.
Schulberg said travel agencies usually work 100% off commission, so when people cancel their cruises — or when cruises cancel the trip — the advisors don't get paid.
While some cruise lines have protected travel agencies' commissions, others have not.
"Right now we're working for free. We aren't getting commission on some of these bookings that are cancelling," Schulberg said. "If our travel partners won't support us, then we won't support them when all this is over with."
Schulberg added that many group bookings have also included hotel payments, which are often not refunded.
"It's a trickle down effect," she said.
Schulberg's daughter, who is a partner in her agency, was on the phone all evening last night because they had clients in Vietnam who had their flights cancelled and they needed to return home.
Schulberg said the good thing about travel advisors is that they can advocate for you, and clients aren't on their own.
Jamie Anderson, owner of Travel & Cruise Desk, said the company has been busy helping people who've needed to cancel or tweak their travel plans. One positive is that the agency has been able to assist their clients in a time of need — even though they're essentially working for free in some cases.
"We kind of see it as an opportunity to show our clients we're here when they need us," Anderson said.
Schulberg has owned Cruise & Travel Specialists since 2002 and used to run her business in a storefront. But after the 2008 recession, she cut expenses so she'd be OK if similar circumstances were to arise again.
"It's brutal," she said.
Less people are booking cruises this year overall, though Schulberg said people are still booking for 2021.
"They don't think that this is going to last forever," Schulberg said. "I know that my clients are going to be ready to go the second this is all over with.
"I'm financially stable so that I can weather the storm."
Ultimately, Schulberg said she's looking forward to the day when things are back to normal, but added she's still here for her clients if they wish to travel.
"Because the cruise lines are our travel partners, they're changing their cancelations policies almost every other day," Schulberg said. "We are advising people (to) just wait and see what they're going to do."
Anderson said he's never experienced a situation quite like the coronavirus pandemic.
His company has taken a massive hit across the board as far as corporate and leisure bookings, destination wedding reservations and the like.
Though Travel & Cruise Desk might have longer hold times because advisors are assisting current clients who are traveling, he reminds the public that the agency is still open and staying up-to-date on the latest information being released about the coronavirus.
Anderson said he's confident the company can get through this health crisis without closing or laying anyone off.
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