Travel agents need to be prepared for lots of work on flight
cancellations, said Pat Funk, vice president of operations for the
Association of Retail Travel Agents. “I think we’re going to see
wholesale cancellations of flights.”
She said most of the cancellations would be confined to “major
carriers, those that are in severe financial difficulty. I don’t
see the low-fare carriers canceling many flights, at least not in
Things, however, could cascade.
And Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition,
said travel agents should realize that they are “in a historic
position” to add value by keeping their customers fully apprised of
“Because,” he said, “those developments will become
mind-numbing.” One noted industry expert contends many travel
agents actually have not prepared for war.
Nolan Burris, president of Vancouver, B.C.-based Visionistics, a
travel agency consulting firm, said only 50 percent of the agents
he addressed at a recent seminar said that they had made plans.
“And of those who said they had made some preparations, most of
them said it was ‘mental’ preparation,” Burris added.
War in Iraq is no surprise to travel agents. They have had
months to advise clients about travel this spring, especially
whether they should go to volatile, or potentially volatile,
regions of the world.
Like many of their fellow agents, “we have been focusing on
trips closer to home, in and around the Pacific Northwest
motorcoach trips, Alaska cruises out of Seattle, trips to national
parks,” said Sue Collins of Cascade Travel in Hood River, Ore.
“As of this moment, we’re keeping tabs on who is traveling
where, and have some back-up plans in case they are stranded.
“We’re already up to date on our airline and tour company
cancellation plans, but so far we have not had any cancellations,”
Some agents say they are wrestling with whether to levy service
charges for cancellations and rebookings, should they start coming
“I realize this is a tough time and we need to be sympathetic to
our clients,” said Karen Torello of Holiday Travel in Burlingame,
Calif., “but we are a business.”
Torello said she’s considering charging a refund/reissue fee.
She said she might apply that fee to a rebooking to keep the
client’s mind focused on future travel.
Sheila Hyman of Tanforan Travel in San Bruno, Calif., said she
spent last week reassuring members of a large group to stick with a
Panama Canal sailing set to depart April 21.
So far, the group is holding steady, she said.
But on the eve of war, Hyman said her phones had stopped
“Never in my 30 years in this business have I seen it this quiet
in the office,” she said.
“Everyone seems to be in a wait-and-see mode. Our clients seem
to feel they cannot enjoy their vacations while our troops are
defending their right to have a vacation.”
War or no war, Stephen Shields said he planned to get on a plane
and travel to Switzerland at press time.
Shields, of Shields World Travel in Pleasanton, Calif., said six
of his clients canceled a trip to Maui “because they were afraid
they couldn’t get back.”
"We have a lot of crossed fingers here,” he said.
“I don’t believe we have any clients traveling in Europe right
now and the ones for the future are holding firm so far.”