by CRAIG COLEY
After working remotely for most of the pandemic, the three agents at Travel Leaders eagerly returned to their office on June 1. “We were so excited to be with each other again because we could bounce ideas off each other and have conversations,” says Debbie Isom, leisure and corporate travel specialist at Travel Leaders.
Then the June 18, 2021, flood deposited 7 feet of water in the basement of their building at 814 S. Walnut. “It destroyed our furnace, ripped the water heater from the pipes, ruined all of the telephone and internet communications,” Isom says.
The agents went back to remote work while the building was repaired. In their absence, someone broke the large window that faces Walnut Street.
It has been that kind of year-and-a-half for Travel Leaders, and they aren’t alone in their industry. When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, travel ground to a halt. Agents spent months canceling trips and fighting to get people’s money back. “We all thought this would be brief, and so a lot of it was rebooking people’s trips for months in the future,” Isom says. “And then, of course, it went on and on.”
Then, it seemed as if people stopped planning trips altogether.
Payments from the federal Paycheck Protection Program kept Travel Leaders’ agents employed, but on reduced hours. An administrative assistant was let go and later hired in a regional role.
On the plus side, Isom says, the pandemic’s travel challenges have steered more first-time clients to the agency. Some of them experienced frustration trying to get refunds for travel they booked themselves online. Others want an agent to help navigate the pandemic-related travel restrictions—testing requirements, quarantine periods—that vary from place to place and change constantly.
But just as business started to pick up, the Delta variant has created additional uncertainty. “We’re going back into a fearful time,” Isom says, “just when we started to make a little bit of money.”
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