Travel advisors making quick decisions in coronavirus crisis

With the State Department last week advising U.S. citizens
to avoid international travel and return home promptly if they are traveling outside
the U.S., travel advisors have been working to meet their clients’ needs.

Becky Gillespie, owner of For Love of Travel in Nevada City,
Calif., had clients depart for Barbados on March 18 for a birthday vacation,
just a day before the State Department advisory. Her clients decided to cut
short their vacation, and she was working to get their flight changed.

Laurel Brunvoll had clients at an all-inclusive resort in
Mexico when the alert came out. The owner of Unforgettable Trips in
Gaithersburg, Md., texted and emailed them about the situation and started
looking at Friday flights home. 

In the hour it took between her initial message to clients
and their callback, the flights were full. Luckily, Brunvoll was able to book
them on Saturday flights. 

Monika Leuenberger, an advisor at Avenues of the World in
Flagstaff, Ariz., found herself in a sticky situation.

Leuenberger had four clients in South Africa scheduled to
come home March 30. They didn’t want to cut their trip short. Last Thursday,
she expressed concerns with that plan, and they agreed via email at around
midnight local time in South Africa. They said they’d speak with Leuenberger in
the morning.

“A few hours later, it became clear that we did not have the
luxury to wait as flights were filling up,” she said. 

She decided to change their return flights for March 23 and
charged their cards. The airfare was around $1,000 per person. She was “sweating
bullets,” hoping they would approve.

They did, and later thanked her for her service.

But not all travelers want to return to the U.S.

Samantha McClure, owner of Small World Travel in Austin,
Texas, is currently helping a mother and her children on an around-the-world
trip, one of McClure’s specialties.

The New York residents are about one-third of the way
through a seven-month trip that’s had a few disruptions of late.

Earlier this month, Bhutan closed its borders. With her
clients headed that way — in the air, in fact — McClure quickly got in touch
with her supplier partners in Southeast Asia to design an entire itinerary in
Thailand to replace Bhutan. She told her client as soon as they got off their

“They’re incredibly flexible and courageous,” she said, and
on they went to Thailand.

They were next supposed to head to Indonesia, but McClure
got word that Australia would likely close its borders soon, so she routed them
there, some 14 hours before the country closed to international travelers.

“That was a great call,” she said.

The client is scheduled to remain in Australia through
mid-April. Even on the ground there, things are changing, like a planned trip
to Tazmania, which closed its borders.

“The key is, we know our clients, so we know what they like,”
McClure said. “We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know them and what they
would like and not like.”

Also key are McClure’s supplier partners, jumping in to
assist whenever necessary, she said.

McClure’s clients are going ahead with the rest of their
trip, even though it will likely undergo even further changes. They don’t have
any desire to return home to quarantine, she said, and everyone they’ve met on
their travels so far has been welcoming and helpful.

Their next stop was Europe, but that will change. Africa was
scheduled after that. But for now, they remain exploring Australia.

“It’s challenging,” McClure said, “but to be honest, it’s so
exciting to have somebody that’s still traveling and still excited to travel
and not scared. For me and my team, I think it’s actually been an incredibly
healthy part of what we’re going through, because almost everything else we’re
doing is canceling and rebooking.”

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