The travel industry came to an abrupt halt this year as spread of the novel coronavirus forced travelers to cancel or reschedule planned trips.
When travel resumes, local travel agents believe it will come back strong, and they will be there to help navigate the waters — and their services won’t cost potential travelers any additional money.
“There’s been almost no travel since this began, and we are honestly struggling to survive right now. But I really do believe there’s a lot of pent up demand to travel,” said LouAnne Rainey, owner of Master Travel in Longview. “People are starting to pick up the phone and ask to go somewhere ... When they do start traveling again, there is a value to us in that we know what the rules are related to travel and we know how to research the regulations.”
Rainey has worked in the travel industry for more than 20 years. She purchased Master Travel after 9/11 and was in downtown Longview until the pandemic forced her to move to smaller quarters. Master Travel is now in Judson Plaza at 1121 Judson Road, Suite 142.
Fellow Longview travel agent Wanda Minx, owner of Evan’s World Travel and Cruises at 913 W. Loop 281, said she has also struggled to survive the pandemic. Minx has worked in travel for 15 years and purchased the business eight years ago.
“Things were going great until COVID,” she said. “We don’t get paid until people travel, so when COVID started, everyone had to cancel their trips. It’s been tough to keep the doors open.”
Minx and Rainey each said one of the biggest misconceptions of using a local travel agent is that that it will cost more for the traveler. That isn’t the case, they said.
“People think it’s going to cost them more to use an agent. It doesn’t,” Rainey said. “We’re paid to do the work by the cruise lines, tour companies, the vendors. They pay us, but they would charge a person booking their service the same same price.”
For the same price as what one would pay booking online, local travel agents can offer an insider knowledge of destinations, personalize services to the individual, and take care of any complications that may arise.
“A lot of times we’ve been there. Now, we can’t have been to every place in the world, but if we haven’t, we’ve probably booked somebody to go there,” Rainey said. “We have some direct knowledge of destinations.”
Minx said she tends to book people to stay at properties or go on excursions that she has been to herself, so that she knows the experience the traveler will receive. Additionally, she said, travel agents often have developed relationships and contacts with personnel over the years and are able to remedy any issues that may arise.
“If I send you to a hotel, I probably have a contact there,” she said. “So if there are any issues, I’ve got that person’s contact number or email. A lot of times I have their cell phone number and I can reach them directly.”
Overall, using the services of a travel agent will save time and convenience, Rainey said.
“There are some people who love to research travel, but it can take you forever and you get bogged down in the details,” she said. “We can save people time.”
And if problems do arise, a travel agent is there to resolve the issues. Minx said when the COVID-19 outbreak began, she had to process about 300 travel cancellations. That hurt her business since she doesn’t receive her fee from vendors until a person actually travels; however, it streamlined services for her patrons.
“Could you imagine having to cancel everything and trying to get a hold of someone to get your money back? We did all of that for them. We made the phone calls, we processed the refunds,” Minx said.
While travel is limited at the time, Rainey and Minx are each hopeful that the future will be bright for vacationing in a post-COVID world.
“We’re here to help you wade through all the details that are out there and let you get excited about traveling, but not have to worry about all the small stuff,” Rainey said.