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Travel Industry Booming

Travel agency representatives say volume is more than pre-pandemic levels now

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Lynn Kistner, travel agent with Canalview Travel Service, Inc., Fulton.

The past three years have been beyond challenging for travel agencies as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the industry to cease operation.

Once travel opened up again, travel agencies face a public wary of travel and cautious of mingling with others. But things have changed.

“We’re beyond busy and doing very well,” said Lynn Kistner, travel agent with Canalview Travel Service, Inc., Fulton. “We’re more than pre-pandemic levels.”

The uptick is not only because of those travelers who felt the sting of having their wings clipped; it’s also the people realizing that life is short.

“The general consensus is what people got out of COVID-19 is the missed travel,” Kistner said. “They want to travel while they can, especially for those once-in-a-lifetime trips.”

There’s also the effect of fewer travel agencies still in business. Kistner thinks that has driven more customers to her door, as “a lot consolidated and closed and a lot became outside agents working at home.”

Michele McIntyre, owner of Travel Savvy, LLC in Jamesville, has also observed many travelers booking their “bucket list” trips, shifting from Mexico and the Caribbean to Europe. In fact, “some are doing parts of Europe and plan to go back. They’re spending more time, about 12 days, and not weeklong trips. They want to take multiple trips in a year.”

The pandemic’s sense of vulnerability has also spurred more seeking multi-generational trips. Families want to reconnect and build memories together while they can. Kistner has seen more people booking “milestone celebration” trips, such as parents taking a child on a trip after college, high school or even eighth grade graduation.

“They know that our time on this earth is short and they’re valuing experiences over things,” she said. “They lost so much time with their loved ones when they couldn’t be together. Instead of a party, parents are going on a trip.”

To keep up to date with lodging and attractions, travel agents typically take working trips “to scope it out and know where to send people,” Kistner said. “We call them familiarization trips. My colleagues in the industry are doing these a lot more than they used to.”

Part of the reason is that so many previously popular vacation destinations have become overrun with travelers. Travel agents are also trying to keep up with changes that have taken place since the pandemic began.

“We’re getting ready for the continued influx of travelers,” Kistner said. “We fly ourselves to Los Cabos and other places to learn about the destination and tour hotels.”

Kistner also escorts small groups to make travel easier for the less experienced travelers or those who simply want to rely on an expert’s help.

Business is also picking up for Robin Guyle, travel adviser with Anna Day Travel in Oswego, an affiliate of Cruise Brothers in Rhode Island.

“I’m busier than before,” she said.

Beginning in January 2023, “the really intrepid travelers said, ‘I don’t care.’ But now even the older people have decided they’ve waited it out and they’re comfortable getting back out there. They’re traveling internationally.”

This has caused a few complications, such as 10 weeks for expedited passports instead of the previous timespan of four weeks. Travel agents must help travelers understand how different travel is now — and that planning is essential. Traveling spontaneously overseas isn’t doable anymore, although domestic travel is often easier.

“At this point, it’s a problem that things are overbooked,” Guyle said. “Travel companies are overbooking which is causing problems. They’re trying to recoup their losses. Even airlines. If people have taken time off, it’s inconvenient to get bumped.”

Educating travelers has always been part of travel agents’ jobs. With the industry’s recent changes, that role has become more important to ensure their customers’ happiness and safety.