Help on the way for idled travel agents

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 2:55 PM EDT
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Travel agents are being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. They get paid when clients travel, and right now, people aren't taking trips.

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg is the co-president and co-owner of the family business Valerie Wilson Travel in New York. The office is now empty.

"Honestly, it's been devastating," Buttigieg said. "Our business basically stopped. We are refunding more than we're selling. We have had to make heart-wrenching decisions: Which employees could we keep, how many could we keep with benefits? We've done two reductions of forces."

It's no easier for Joshua Bush, the CEO of Avenue Two Travel near Philadelphia. In better times, he skydived in Dubai. Now, he's trying to figure out when his business may be able to return to normal after laying off more than 10% of his staff and asking others to furlough.

"Once we get through this next 30 days, that will be quite telling for us," Bush said.

Help is on the way. The advocacy group American Society of Travel Advisors successfully lobbied for agents to be included in the stimulus package.

"Being included in this way means our members have multiple options to get financial relief, and that's a huge deal because this is a serious crisis situation right now," said Eben Peck, the executive vice president for advocacy at ASTA.

Travel advisers are eligible for relief under the $25 billion Congress set aside for the airline industry. They can also apply for small business loans.

"The travel industry is the first to feel, but then it's also the first to heal," Bush said.

"Travel will definitely forever be changed. It'll be sort of pre-COVID, post-COVID," Wilson-Buttigieg said.

There are almost 150,000 travel advisers like Buttigieg and Bush nationwide. Both are hopeful they can soon get back to work and traveling.