The travel industry has been gutted by the pandemic. Bookings have fallen off a cliff, there's no product to sell, confidence among travelers is shot and there's no road map for a resumption of international travel.
"Travel was the first industry to be affected by the pandemic and will likely be the last to recover," says Don Beattie, CEO of Mobile Travel Agents. Hundreds of shopfront travel agents have shut, including some big players such as STA Travel. Under assault from online booking platforms and shrinking commissions, the death of the travel agent has been predicted for years. Could 2021 be the year it happens?
What are travel agents doing right now?
Although they might not be handling new bookings, many travel agents are busy negotiating with airlines, cruise operators and hotels to obtain refunds on behalf of their clients.
The refund process is complicated, according to Linda Forster. "All the refunds happen on a rolling basis but it's not just one blanket rule for a refund. Over time they change depending on the border closures. The border bans get extended every three months so a lot of the travel suppliers don't update their coronavirus cancellation and refund policy until they know what the borders situation is."
The future for travel agents
One of the few positives to come out of the damage to the travel industry has been to highlight the value that a travel agent can bring to travel plans. Many who booked their own trips that were subsequently canceled as a result of the pandemic have found themselves spending hours on the phone waiting to contact airlines, hotels, tour operators and others who are sitting on the money paid for a holiday they're not allowed to take. If you made your booking through a travel agent, you've got an expert on your side who can wield more influence than any individual traveller can.
Travel is likely to become even more complicated in future. It might involve protocols regarding vaccinations, quarantine regulations, social distancing and mask wearing that could vary from one country to another. Those regulations could even change at short notice, and for all those reasons it makes sense to use a travel agent who is going to have your back.
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