When the Travel Stops — How to Start Again
The week of March 9, 2020, was “pure chaos,” according to Kris Billiter, owner of Magical Memories Tours & Travel. “Part of what I do is student group travel. I had eight schools scheduled to travel between February and June. One of them actually traveled,” he says. He was scheduled to take Christian Academy of Louisville’s music department to New York City on March 12, but that trip was canceled the night before.
In the early weeks of social distancing, Kris and his agents spent most of their days talking with clients about refunds or just providing updates. “There was so much of it that was just out of our control; the best thing that we could have done at that time was to try to keep our clients as updated as possible,” he says. Cruise lines and other travel suppliers have been so overwhelmed that some Magical Moments clients are just now receiving refunds.
Although the headaches for travelers whose trips were canceled by airlines, cruise ships, or hotels in March, April, and May were numerous, the fact that the trips were canceled by the suppliers, in many cases, made things easier. While many travelers purchase trip insurance, there are limitations to what these policies cover. While getting sick with COVID-19 might be covered, being fearful of traveling during a global pandemic is not. Heather Hurst, office manager at All About Travel, says that while her company always encourages travel insurance, “moving forward, the ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ policies will be top priority for booking travel into the future.”
The travel industry in many ways is in stasis. Many potential travelers are waiting to see what hotels, airlines, cruise ships, and amusement parks are going to do. Kris says he expects to see a second wave of cancellations among clients who are able to travel but don’t want to spend the money on an experience that won’t be anything like what they anticipated.
Disney, for example, has canceled all dining reservations and all FastPass Plus reservations until late 2020. “I know the temptation might be to hold on to the business that we have, but it’s better for business long-term when we put our clients’ needs first,” Kris says. “For a lot of families, going on a cruise or going to Disney World is a trip that they’ve saved for three or four years to pull off. Right now is probably not the best time for them to do that because they’re not going to get the experience that they’ve dreamed of. I tell my clients, ‘My job is to give you all the information that I can, and you make the best decision,’” he says.