Coping During Covid-19:
This week Travel Courier checks in with Sandra Levinton, Owner/Operator of Marlin Travel Downtown YXE, to find out how she’s managing during the ongoing global pandemic.
Tell us a little bit about what it’s been like being a travel agent over the past few weeks?
Well, it’s been wild and woolly to say the least. For the most part people are really good – I’ve had so many of my clients say they’re so glad they booked with a travel agent and had me to look after them. Even clients who didn’t have anything booked have contacted me to say how they have always valued my service and even more so with this going on, and some clients have just touched base to say hi and ask how I’ve been doing. I’ve only had one client who’s been a little upset at not getting a refund and I explained that it’s all well and good to be ‘entitled’ to a refund but if all of the travel companies start giving people refunds, there will be many that WILL go bankrupt. If that happens, there will still be people who won’t get a refund and many more who won’t even be able to travel because of those bankruptcies. And, limited supply and higher demand will result in higher prices in the future.
How long have you been a travel agent and have you ever experienced anything like this?
I’ve been in the travel industry for more than 32 years and I’ve experienced a lot – 9/11, SARS, H1N1, Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika… And it’s never easy. For me 9/11 was horrific because I couldn’t believe people would intentionally do that to other people. I had young children at home and will never forget the news bulletins while we were having breakfast as I was getting ready to go to work and getting the kids ready to go to daycare.
Have you had a client or supplier do something nice for you during this time?
Yes, I’ve had clients call and email saying how they’re so appreciative of all we do for them and some have dropped off gift cards and bottles of wine for me and my staff, which we’ve ‘quarantined’ before using.
Do you have any strategies to get through the next few months?
We’re definitely going to have to tighten our belts to get through these ‘lean months’. We’ll reduce hours for staff but I’m hoping I don’t have to lay anyone off. As the owner of the office, I may not get paid myself though.
We’re definitely going to have to tighten our belts to get through these ‘lean months.’ We’ll reduce hours for staff but I’m hoping I don’t have to lay anyone off. As the owner of the office, I may not get paid myself though.
Marlin Travel Downtown YXE
If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of this, it’s been that people have seen the value of using a travel agent firsthand. Do you agree?
Definitely. I have had so many people say that they’re so glad that we’re here for them. You hear the stories of people on hold for 12 hours or they can’t get home at all. We’ve had people call or email asking for help who aren’t our clients and we’ve still helped them with getting flights home when we could. (One of those was one of the people who brought us wine!) When they asked what they could do for us, we just said, please book with us next time you travel. We have been fortunate also as our network has excellent relationships with suppliers and we have preferred phone numbers where we did not have to be on hold for as long as many other people.
What kind of impact will this have on your income?
It will be huge. I’ve lost a couple of groups that will definitely impact the bottom line. I’m actually trying not to think about that too much yet because it’ll be a massive impact — we’ve got more important things to worry about right now. The government just announced that it is increasing wage subsidies and offering loans that are interest free for a year and up to $10,000 of the loan may be forgivable so that will be a great help.
Do you have any advice for other agents during this time?
Stay strong. Breathe. Don’t panic. This too shall pass. The travel industry is a relatively close-knit community. Tour operators, airlines, hotels, travel agencies, etc., we work together in times like these, we support each other and we’re here for each other. I consider myself lucky that I have such a great team to work with. And, if you ask other agency managers and/or owners, I bet 99% will say the same about their teams. Especially in smaller agencies like mine, our teams are family too. I’ve always said ‘you have to be a special kind of crazy’ to be a travel agent and I still feel that holds true. I’d like to send out a ‘virtual hug’ to all of my fellow travel agents out there and to everyone else in the travel industry. #TravelAgentStrong #TourismStrong