Q&A: How the coronavirus could change the way Americans travel

(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
(Courtesy Adobe Stock)

(Courtesy Adobe Stock)

With nearly 3 million cases of the coronavirus confirmed worldwide, many Americans have been forced to put vacation plans on hold until further notice.

Based in the Houston area, Shannon Green has been an independent contractor with Happily Ever After Travel for more than nine years, specializing in all-inclusive vacations in the Caribbean, cruises and Disney trips. She primarily books trips for local families but has clients all over the U.S., typically serving hundreds of clients during the spring and summer months.

Green has continued working to cancel and reschedule vacations, but her income has dwindled because she does not receive payment until clients have traveled.

Community Impact Newspaper interviewed Green on April 24 to learn more about how the coronavirus has affected the travel industry and how it might change the way people travel in the future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Have you had to adapt the way you offer services at all during this time?

At this time my services have all but stopped regarding sending client documents as there are no travelers. My business is home based, so the ability to quote vacations, answer questions and book travel has only changed in that nothing is currently available to book for travel until June 15 at the earliest.

I continue to work from home, answer questions by email and phone and process bookings with our suppliers through the same methods as before the stay-at-home orders. I’m essentially doing double the work because I booked these trips to begin with, and now I’m working to cancel them and then rebook them again.

How has the pandemic affected your clients and your business during this typically busy travel season?

Spring break in March is one of our busiest weeks of the year. We were hit hard with cancellations before the destinations actually closed for business, and once the resorts, flights and theme parks closed we spent weeks canceling and rebooking packages. My income is now essentially zero since we’re paid when people travel, and no one can travel. It has hurt the travel industry.

Most clients are not getting a full refund, but they’re getting a future travel credit. Some people are opting to do the total refund, and then they’ll re-evaluate once things become normal again. Some are opting to reschedule for next year. The airlines are not giving money back, but they’re not charging fees to transfer the flights to a later time.

The hard part is the people getting married and going on their honeymoon—that’s the part that’s ripped my heart out the most. I had some clients that were doing graduation trips, and they will take that cruise eventually, just not in the time frame they had planned. Those are the things that just really pull at my heartstrings.

How have airlines and other travel companies handled the situation?

Overall, I think the travel industry is really trying to do best by their customers but still hoping their customers will travel because this is affecting the livelihoods of millions of people that work in tourism.

For the most part, this is unprecedented. I really feel like travel companies are all doing a great job and are doing the best with what they’re given with so many policies changing constantly. A lot of the companies are offering long extensions or the ability to book things further down the road. They’re also understanding that some people might not be able to travel right away if they were laid off or they’re not earning an income.

Not everybody’s fortunate to travel yearly or a couple times a year. I think about some of these families that they’ve been paying and planning on these trips for a year and a half. I think that’s the part that’s really hard to digest. I feel it with my customer—not just because I’m losing the payment or the commission—it’s the fact that something they dreamed about and that they were wishing would come to pass is not delayed or not happening in the timeframe that they wanted.

When do you anticipate the travel industry getting back to some sense of normalcy, and what might that look like?

I don’t foresee “normal” booking activity until travel restrictions to the Caribbean are lifted, until cruise lines are operating again, until Canada opens their borders for Alaska to be open again and until consumer confidence is restored to fly on an airplane or take a cruise. July is honestly optimistic to see things possibly following a “new normal” level. It could be 2021 before we see the volume of travelers we saw prior to March.

How do you think the coronavirus might affect the way people travel moving forward?

Moving forward, travelers will want to be assured they are safe. Our suppliers, including tour operators, Disney parks and cruise lines, will need to reassure travelers through marketing campaigns that emphasize what they are doing differently to protect their guests.

I think the days of traditional self-service buffets are over. Moving forward food will be protected behind glass, served by a gloved employee with no ability to be touched by guests. I see the food to still be unlimited, all-you-care-to-eat, but in a safer environment. I can see temperature checks being required to board cruise ships. I could even see instant flu or coronavirus testing being done to passengers before boarding a cruise ship.

I think that overcrowding will be lessened in places like buses, dining rooms and theater shows. Things will be different, like post-9/11, there will be some permanent changes. I see the good from this being that travel will happen again, and like after 9/11, become safer than ever. I also see good in that people are now conscious about how sanitary they are. People may be more likely to wash their hands and sneeze in a tissue than before, which will be good for everyone.
By Danica Lloyd

Editor, Cy-Fair

Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2016. As editor, she continues to cover local government, education, health care, real estate, development, business and transportation in Cy-Fair. Her experience prior to CI includes studying at the Washington Journalism Center and interning at a startup incubator in D.C., serving as editor-in-chief of Union University's student magazine and online newspaper, reporting for The Jackson Sun and freelancing for other publications in Arkansas and Tennessee.