Rising COVID-19 cases in some states create new headache for travel agencies

Posted at 5:29 AM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 08:20:18-04

Rising numbers of COVID-19 in some states have created a second rough patch for travel agencies.

In Kenosha, LaMacchia Travel's Tom Karnes said the first wave of coronavirus cases threw a wrench into trips his agency had planned for people in the spring - when schools are on spring break.

"March, April, May, that was just complete havoc," Karnes said.

He noted most trips are booked three to six months in advance.

"We spent October to January booking that peak season, for spring break travel," Karnes said. "Then come February, this virus happens, and we have to spend three months undoing seven months of work and refunding all the money that goes back to clients."

He said early outbreaks of COVID-19 in Europe, especially in Italy, also destroyed the company's main source of summer revenue: European vacations and cruises.

Karnes said there was a slight uptick in bookings in June, with some customers planning trips for fall and early winter, but recent outbreaks in key travel markets like Florida, Arizona and California have now once again brought the industry to a screeching halt.

"We're at the point now where we're right back to where we were in March," Karnes said.

"Our domestic business year-to-date right now, we're down over 55% in business," he added. "Our international travel business is down 75% at the moment. So those are big numbers."

Karnes said the economic hit of the pandemic has forced him to lay off 10 people and operate with a skeleton crew.

He noted the industry as a whole has hit hard times, with coronavirus impacting everything from flights, to cruises, to hotels, after several great years.

"We were in a resurgence," Karnes said. "There was a tremendous growth in travel agents in the last 5-7 years."

Karnes credited the increase to more young people entering the industry as travel agents. He said many of them did so after their own travels, or even their own destination weddings, sparked their interest in the business.

But as expected, Karnes and the remaining workers at LaMacchia Travel are spending the bulk of their time these days handling customer service calls.

He said airlines or cruises who cancel trips are required by law to refund your money.

Karnes said if someone opts to cancel his or her trip - if the airline or cruise has not canceled - they could be susceptible to any cancellation fees. In those situations, he noted most companies are offering vouchers with a credit for future travel in place of a refund.

Karnes said those credits or refunds typically take about 90 days.

He said travel will probably feel the impact of the pandemic for several years going forward - with many airlines scaling back flights, downsizing crews, and/or raising prices to try and make up for lost revenue.

"You're going to see prices higher, you're going to see a lot more flights requiring connections," Karnes said. "I don't think it's going to be great for the consumer for a couple of years."

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