Travel industry hopeful after ‘devastating’ COVID toll

Many countries are requiring travelers to show proof of being negative for COVID-19 and others want travelers to quarantine after a trip. Travel restrictions vary from state to state.

COVID-19 brought the travel industry to a sudden stop in March 2020, and many local travel agencies have struggled to recover a year later.

Jean Paugh, owner of All About You Travel Unlimited, 1240 U.S. 1, Suite 6, in Rockledge, said she has lost 98.3 percent of her sales from 2019 and had to lay off her entire staff last year due to the pandemic.

“This has been devastating,” Paugh said. ”I built my agency from scratch with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and the pandemic has hit the travel community harder than any other out there.”

Air travel has plummeted, and large cruise ships haven’t carried passengers from American ports since March 2020. Many countries are requiring travelers to show proof of being negative for COVID-19 and others want travelers to quarantine after a trip. Travel restrictions vary from state to state.

Consider, for example, Carnival Cruise Line, which hopes to resume cruises from Port Canaveral later this year and will homeport its newest ship, the Mardi Gras, at newly built Cruise Terminal 3 at the Port. It advises travelers who cruise worldwide during the pandemic to get tested three to five days after their trip and stay home for seven days after travel, even if they test negative. If they test positive or don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 14 days after travel.

With travel options limited, Paugh’s business, an affiliate of Uniglobe Travel Center, a Virtuoso Agency, is staying afloat thanks to bookings from a few clients who need to travel; several day trips by motorcoach; and $125 a week in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program that temporarily expands unemployment insurance eligibility to self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors and part-time workers.

“I have no income and am thankful for my grandson, who helps me out at home,” Paugh said. “As a widow, I don’t have a second income. These are very scary times.”

Paugh spends much of her time following up on hundreds of canceled cruise ship bookings to ensure that clients received their refunds and their future travel certificates are correct. To cut costs, she’s switched from mailing a paper newsletter to posting an online newsletter to keep clients updated on current travel news and opportunities in 2022.

But there’s hope on the horizon. The recent rollout of COVID vaccines has brought in new business as more people receive their shots and make travel plans, Paugh said.

“People are ready to travel again,” Paugh said. “The mental health aspect of this pandemic is huge, and people want to be able to travel. They need to see something other than the inside walls of their homes. Face-to-face interaction is so important. The one thing all of my clients have said is that they needed to see other people.”

For more information, go to allaboutyoutravelunlimited.com or call 321-631-8080 or 877-635-8080.