This was my family March 11, 2020.... in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I was adamant that my adult sons go on one more family trip with old mom and dad before they move on and start their own lives. They had always been to the Pacific side of Mexico and I really wanted them to see the Caribbean. Well, let me tell you that is was a trip they will never forget..... "Hey mom, remember when you made us go to Mexico and we all temporarily lost our jobs and were forced to spend weeks isolating with each other. That was fun!" Now I am not naïve and I am educated and was watching the "Corona Virus" stats; so when I planned this family trip, I could have never imagined the world would shut down that same week. I don't think any of us seen this coming. (Full disclaimer, up until the world lost its mind, it was one of the best holidays we ever had. And isolating was fun, it seemed to just continue on from the fun we had in Mexico; well, minus the swim-up bar) Even after we got home and got our bearings; it still didn't seem real. How could a flu bug take down an entire world. Crazy, I thought. Perhaps this will only last a week or two.
Then reality kicked in; calls, emails, zoom meetings, flight changes and cancellations.... panic, pandemonium and uncertainty. We had to get it together, clients needed us. They needed us to get them home quickly and safely. (We had clients all over the world and they needed/wanted to come home) Hours on hold with airlines and tour operators, trying to make arrangements to help our clients get back to Canada. We were helping people that didn't even use a travel agent; because we were terrified that Canadians would be stranded abroad. Not once ever worrying about how this was going to affect our bottom line, not once thinking that this virus was going to single handedly take down the tourism industry as we knew it. Every travel advisor I know was moving heaven and earth for the safety of the passengers.
The problem soon became clear that there wasn't a handbook on how to handle a Global Pandemic in these times. It was also soon clear that the industry and the government were just flying by the seat of their pants (poor choice of words), trying to make decisions that was not going to ruin travel business' or the industry and was going to be fair for passengers. Everyday from March 16 on; there were almost daily policy changes, compensation changes and more and more cancelled trips. We could barely keep up. Who is giving money back? Who is giving Future Travel Credits? How long are credits good for? What is the timeline of refunds (which were few and far between)…. All the while knowing that everyone in all aspects of the industry was doing the very best they could. In the first few weeks of this, no one was sleeping and everyone was in denial, but blown away about how quick programs and websites etc. were being put in place. It was a technological fast forward for the industry almost.
But everyday we seemed to wake up to a new "Soul Crushing" day. (My co-worker MJ uses this analogy to describe Covid) Daily updates from the PM on what was happening in the world. Calls from clients wondering the status of their cancelled trip, their money or credits. Anger and frustration from so many that felt like I did; this is too much for us to deal with. And then it started: commission recalls, lay offs of airline staff and our BDM's for the Tour Companies we use were getting furloughed.... our support system within the industry seemed to be disappearing. This is when a whole bunch of us probably collectively thought, oh boy, we are in trouble.
You see what most people don't know is that every time there was a refund to the passenger, the travel agency had to pay the company the earned commission back. Which one might say that makes sense; but imagine having to give back your paycheck for the previous 2 weeks that you worked AND THEN be told you will need to work the next chunk of months for free. Again soul crushing and terrifying on how we were going to pay bills. Now I understand that there was nothing that could have been done about that; but I wanted to put it out there so it is understood that we get paid commission only and all our work we did during Covid collectively as Travel Advisors, was solely for the safety and betterment of our clients.
I have had a lot of people comment that "Well, you were getting the Covid money." Not everyone who owned a business in Canada was eligible for CEBA. I have many Sole Proprietor friends that did not qualify and have admitted the CERB was fantastic; except it is hard to pay store bills and home bills on $2000 per month. The Government did what they thought was best for "majority" of Canadians, but not everyone got what they needed.
As weeks turned into months, it seemed like things were starting to get better. The month of May seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses were opening, some sort of normalcy for people was starting to happen. But a business where you need people to be able to leave the city, province, country or continent to make a living; tourism was in more and more trouble.
We were at the mercy of the rule makers of the world. In this industry, most of us don't have curb side pick up options or tangible items to sell. We sell adventure, experiences and joy! Nothing tangible about what we do. So now what?
The next chunk of months (well it is continuing now to be honest) have been full of more ups and downs; but not all of this is bad. I will write next the continuation of Covid vs Tourism as well as all the positive's that have come out of this.
These are crazy times!
Most days, I feel like you need to be a little crazy to be in the Travel Business; but here we are. Like all of you, we are taking this craziness one day at a time.
Here are a couple helpful links:
Can't wait to continue the conversation with you all.
"Life is Short & the World is Wide"
Thank you to all the essential workers out there! You didn't sign up for this, please know I appreciate every last one of you.