HOLLAND — It’s been a turbulent year for many businesses across the country. But perhaps one of the heaviest-hit industries has been travel.
That’s reflected in the trends local agents are seeing even now, nearly six months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
That includes Allison DeYoung, a Holland-based agent for Key to the World Travel.
“We’re a full-service travel agency that specializes in Disney destinations and family vacations,” she said. “My particular specialty is coordinating the logistics with multi-generational or multi-family groups.”
DeYoung books trips for Adventures by Disney, Aulani in Hawaii, Disney Cruise Line, Disney World and DisneyLand.
“Four of those aren’t really open to the public right now,” she said. “The one bright spot for Disney is Walt Disney World. They announced their reopening plan in June and reopened in July.
“The feedback has been extremely positive. There are health and safety requirements like masks and social distancing, shorter park hours, better sanitation, encouragement of hand washing, lower capacity. There’s yet to be an outbreak traced to Walt Disney World.”
But despite movement in the right direction, the industry has a long way to go before it reaches a full recovery.
“COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the travel industry,” DeYoung said. “I can see some travel suppliers having to refund clients and shut down permanently.”
According to a statement from the American Society of Travel Advisors released Thursday, Aug. 6, more than 90 percent of members are reporting revenue down 75 percent or more in comparison to 2019.
“Few sectors have been as hard hit, or face a longer road to recovery, than the travel agency industry,” said ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby. “It cannot be overstated — these are incredibly difficult times for travel agencies across the country.”
Kerby added that many agencies are experiencing layoffs and furloughs and there is a projected three to 12-month lag time in business income returning after bookings resume.
A survey of members that included nearly 1,200 respondents from ASTA found that, given the ongoing uncertainty and factoring in current cash reserves, 15.8 percent of respondents expect to close their doors within six weeks without more federal funding — while 24.3 percent believe they can last three months, 31.2 percent believe they can last six months and 15.1 percent believe they can last a year.
Only 13.6 percent of respondents claimed they could last beyond a year.
“Our agency, as a whole, has fared a bit better because some of the destinations we specialize in have reopened,” DeYoung said.
“That includes Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. We’re also planning quite a lot to the Caribbean and Mexico. It’s still not great. My personal bookings are down about 60 percent from this time last year. Our agency as a whole has lost $11 million in bookings for 2020.
“Next year looks a little more promising. We had a lot of people who had trips booked that shifted to 2021 instead of outright canceling. We’ve gotten calls from people who are going crazy staying at home and want to be hopeful and book something for next year.”
It’s a similar situation at Pathfinders Travel in downtown Holland, a 43-year-old business owned by Blake Van Liere and her husband.
“We’ve been extremely affected,” Van Liere said. “We had zero business in March, April, May and even June. We still sold airline tickets during those months for people who needed to visit family or something like that.
“We’re just starting to pick up a little. There are a lot of agencies that aren’t even open right now. We’re open three days a week. It used to be five, and we have limited staff, but it’s progress.”
Van Liere noted travel agencies are also impacted by international stipulations.
“Americans are not allowed into Europe and there are a lot of places in the Caribbean where you need a COVID-19 test within three days of arrival,” she said. “Some people are willing to do that, and some aren’t.
“I think the majority of people are waiting for a vaccine before they’ll actually commit to travel. We are seeing quite a few bookings for next year, so that’s good. People want to have a trip they can look forward to.”
At Pathfinders, Van Liere has seen an increase in booking interest for Cancun, Mexico.
“I think that’s because they have less restrictions in terms of COVID testing and that whole area is, at the moment, a pretty safe place to go,” she said.
Both Van Liere and DeYoung expect to see lasting changes to the industry.
“There used to be a lot of independent travel agents who sold travel as a hobby,” Van Liere said. “I think a lot of those people will go out of business. And I don’t know if some of the smaller agencies will rebound.”
DeYoung believes some changes may be for the best.
“I do think some of the increased health and safety precautions will, and probably should, stick around — even after life has gone back to normal,” she said.
“I would love to see them continue to encourage hand washing and increased cleaning across theme park sand resorts. That could be an improvement that comes out of COVID.
“But people love to travel. Everyone has their list of destinations; things they want to share with their families or their kids. I think that desire to travel or adventure or see the world is still there — it’s just dormant right now.”
— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at [email protected] Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.