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COVID-19 & the Millennial Travel Advisor

My Perspective As A Millennial Travel Agent

Kat Shearwood
Traci’s Travel

For almost a month now, the world has gone from thrivingly confident, to completely unsure. Unsure if the new virus COVID-19 was something to actually fear, or something the media had blown up into some terrifying monster virus that would end man-kind, much like all the pandemic scares in the past.

Though the answer is still unclear at the moment which of those two options this pandemic actually is, one thing is for sure: the travel industry will never be the same. Of course, we all hope and pray that this virus scare will end (soon), and that our clients will re-book instead of completely cancel, but when…and to where? With borders shutting down each day, and countries issuing future travel bans, the life of your average travel agent just got much, much harder.

Beginning my career as a travel agent late last year, I joined the travel game while the iron was hot. The economy was booming, the millennial’s my age who were my target market all now had good paying jobs that they could afford a little more boujee vacations. They’ve all graduated from college and are getting married, which meant plenty of honeymoons to book and destination bachelorette parties to plan. Not to mention my average age clients have no kids, a highly disposable income, and a need to showcase their adventures and travels on Instagram (free advertising for me!). Wave season had hit the travel industry, and trips were booking left and right. I think it was safe to say, I had hit my stride as an agent.

Being in my mid 20’s, I honestly could not tell you the last time a virus truly scared me, the market and economy had crashed, and the world was in fear of death by disease. If I had heard of a previous time this had happened, chances are I really just did not care. The here and now, that’s what my generation lives for. I vaguely can recall the last couple sickness scares, with swine flu being something I had heard somewhere you got from pigs, and ebola making you bleed from your eyes. Once again, the thought of maybe having to lay off eating pounds of bacon and needing bandages for your eyes truly sounded terrible, but the thought of actually contracting that disease was something seemingly impossible.

The main reason these and many more sicknesses seemed so out of reach from my everyday life was that it didn’t change or affect my everyday life. Within weeks this virus has closed down all my favorite restaurants and bars, rid the world of its excess toilet paper, and jeopardized all my and my new clients’ upcoming travel.

Travel insurance was not purchased by a single one of my clients, and all my hard work researching, sending out quotes, comparing prices, and booking trips was going down the tubes faster than I could wrap my head around. I realized I had just joined the travel industry while it was taking its biggest plunge since 911, again, a time I knew nothing about or remember since I was only 5 years old.

Seeking advice from more experienced veteran agents helped, as they could shed some light and hope since they survived the last time the economy plunged and they were in a business that no one had the disposable income for. They made it out alive, better actually, because now they were experienced. They had hit rock bottom with their business, came up, and could now handle every possible scenario for booking travel. Their advice was, as you can imagine, not to panic. They had seen it all before. The media hypes something like this up, the world gets in a frenzy for a moment, but soon it would be yesterday’s news, and all would return to normal. My own boss had told me prior to becoming an agent that in 5 years of working the industry, she could only remember a hand full of times she had to cancel a trip for someone without travel insurance, or rebook due to a client conflict. It was a job that was routine, easy once you got the hang of it, and fun. In hindsight, it is still all those things. But now, agents such as myself are spending hours upon hours waiting on the phone with suppliers, constantly checking the news for updates on travel restrictions, and trying to console a year’s worth of travel clients on their upcoming trip concerns. We’re hearing horror stories of friends using BookIt.com, and the company going under causing their trips and payments lost. The travel industry in complete chaos, and the scariest part? There’s no end in sight yet, as this is proving to be not your normal sickness scare.

During all of this uncertainty and times of anger, it does resonate with me what the veteran travel agents have said. It will pass like they all have in the past, and even though it seems like all your hard work and income being lost, in the end, you really will be a better, well-rounded agent. Don’t panic. You will be confident in what you can offer, and will be equipped for all scenarios that may present themselves in the future. Right now, the most important thing to remind yourself if you are employed in the travel industry is that the travel agent profession hasn’t changed, the travel has. What you bring to the table and the knowledge you have is still valuable, and may be even more so now since so many people who have booked trips on their own are experiencing a horrible nightmare trying to rebook or cancel. They have no advocate, no help, and no one on their side.

My advice would be to learn, grow, and re-book, this time too shall pass. If you know someone who is doing anything they can to try and get back their long saved money that they use to pay for a trip on their own, help them out as best you can. They will remember the agent who fought for them when no one else would, and you could gain a lifelong client from it.

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