Travel agencies

Local travel agencies impacted by COVID-19 see increased interest

With the recent distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa and across the country, local travel agencies that have grappled with the restrictions have seen an increase in travel inquiries and bookings.

Local travel agencies in Iowa City are seeing an increase in future travel inquiries and travel bookings as COVID-19 vaccine distribution ramps up across the country.

It comes as former President Trump recently eased restrictions on international travel, lifting a ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil entering the United States on January 18.

Planning future travel during the pandemic has been difficult for many Americans, with the risk of further spread of COVID-19 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention frequently adjusting recommendations and guidelines offered for those looking to travel.

Travel agencies, especially smaller local ones, have felt the pressure of an unstable travel industry over the past year, which has led to financial difficulties.

CEO and owner of Travel Leaders/Destinations Unlimited, Duane Jasper, said his business – based in Cedar Rapids and Coralville – was significantly impacted when the pandemic began in March 2020.

RELATED: International students at UI grapple with tough decisions on travel plans with upcoming winter break

“With CDC restrictions and everyone concerned about the spread of the virus, this brought travel to a virtual halt in the first and second quarters of last year,” Jasper said. “It’s picked up slowly but steadily since then. But it’s certainly had an impact on anyone in the travel industry, whether you’re a hotel supplier, car rental company, airline or the industry. travel.

Jasper said he had to assess the amount of work needed for the employees. Meanwhile, he said the agency has received an influx of cancellations and postponement requests.

Once these were completed, he said the workload decreased.

“At the end of the day, our business took a pretty big hit, like everyone else on travel, and we had to cut everyone’s hours,” Jasper said. “Most of our employees are still employed, still working from home, some from the office, but we expect to have everyone back in the next two months.”

Jasper said that with this reduction in hours for several employees, agency executives felt it was best to focus on staffing one office instead of two, and temporarily closed his office at Coralville.

He said employees in Coralville now work for the office in Cedar Rapids.

Annette Reed, owner of Iowa City’s Hawkeye World Travel, said her agency also received many requests to cancel travel plans or temporarily halt them last March when stricter COVID-19 travel restrictions 19 have been implemented.

RELATED: Johnson County leaders still recommend avoiding non-essential travel as other counties move to gradually reopen

However, Reed said his agency has remained financially stable throughout the past year despite the pandemic and hasn’t had to lay off employees or cut employee hours.

Reed said she’s seen an increase in new and repeat customers looking to rebook trips or receive quotes for potential travel expenses with the end of the pandemic in sight.

“We’re just watching what’s going on and making sure our people traveling are safe and have all the information they need to take a vacation and feel comfortable with the choice they have. done,” Reid said.

Jasper said with COVID-19 bringing travel plans and personal finances to a standstill, he’s seen many new clients contact his agency, seeking travel advice to avoid these issues in the future.

“The good thing for our industry right now is that all of the leads and inquiries that we get, a lot of them are new people contacting a travel agency or travel consultant for the first time,” said said Jasper. . “They are doing this because they may have had issues canceling a trip when COVID first became an issue.”

Jasper said that over the past 30 days he has seen a significant increase in the number of travel requests received by his agency, which he says is largely due to the distribution of the vaccine.

“We know this is going to continue to be a slow increase in travel,” Jasper said. “But, as the vaccine rolls out, we expect vacation and business travel to continue to rebound.”

Downtown Iowa City District Executive Director Nancy Bird said she believes distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine will encourage travel, which will help local businesses and travel agencies who have been affected by the pandemic.

“Rolling out the vaccine will really help travel,” Bird said.