Friday the 13th of March 2020, under a bright full moon, Vacationkids switched from being a travel agency into a crisis management center.
It was a day that none of us here at Vacationkids will ever forget! Borders closed, planes were grounded, Cruise ships were docked and the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt. We had families scattered all over the globe that we needed to get home safely and quickly. We had many more families in limbo about their future travel plans.
To make matters worse, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, tour companies...the entire travel industry was caught completely off guard. International government regulations were changing by the minute. This meant travel terms and travel policies were also evolving by the minute. Reservation websites were crashing. Call center phone hold times took hours. 24/7 16 to 20 hour work days seemed normal but instead of helping clients created incredible adventures, we found ourselves having to deliver disappointing or frustrating news that was beyond our control.
Our incredible team at Vacationkids spent the next several months insuring all of our families were safe, sorted and refunded. I am so incredibly proud of our team! They took professionalism to the level of heroic when it came to advocating for our clients. They indeed worked many miracles.
Early in the pandemic, our team at Vacationkids made the decision to stop taking new reservations and to cease all marketing and advertising efforts. We all sincerely felt that our clients had so many other priorities like keeping their loved one safe, remote work, virtual school etc. Any business owner knows this is very risky and could put our jobs at risk, especially because, at the time, we had no idea how long the pandemic would last. Collectively, we all believed it was the moral, ethical and responsible thing to do.
Admittedly, there were some very dark days! 2020 was meant to be a celebration of Vacationkids' 20th anniversary in business. Instead we were scrambling to keep the lights on and wondering if there would be any future for us. I took a position as adjunct professor at NYU university teaching Hospitality. The optimism and enthusiasm in the future of the travel industry that my student had sincerely helped me to remain optimistic. Meanwhile so many industry colleagues that we've worked and partnered with for decades were losing their jobs. I also teach at many travel agent industry events, all of which were held virtually in 2020. Many were shocked to learn of our agency's decision to stop marketing and making reservations. We stayed the course.
The December holidays is usually one of our busiest travel weeks of the year. This year came and went without any travelers, no delays and no flight rescheduling during Christmas dinner. Bad weather and snow storms really didn't matter to us because there weren't many planes taking off anyway. This was all so very strange for us. No doubt all of us found the holidays very strange this past year.
Normally the day after Christmas is the start of the "busy season" for travel agents. Many travel agencies will book 70% of their business during the first quarter of every year. I remember logging onto my computer with this feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach . In my mind I felt this was a turning point of survival for Vacationkids. I was delighted to see a handful of reservation requests. The team and I agreed we felt safe enough to start booking trips to specific destinations. Most of our initial requests have been either very last minute trips - families departing within the same week, or reservations for 2022.
Thankfully the vaccine has been a reason for optimism. With each passing day we are once again scheduling consultations and booking trips and for this, we are eternally grateful! As more and more of guests who traveled in January and February return home safely with happy reports, we feel far more confident promoting travel. Our team here at Vacationkids agrees the time is right to once again, start looking forward and advocating future travel adventures.
Here are two recent interviews I did with my local ABC and NBC television news stations here where I live in Pennsylvania. These interviews talk more about where people are going, things travelers now need to know and many more insights and travel tips.
We understand not everyone is ready to travel but for those that are, we look forward to helping you plan vacations that are as safe and worry free as possible. Each day now brings us more optimism. Disneyland California is re-opening and we now have Disney rates thru 2022. Mexico and Caribbean resorts have been welcoming guests -30,000 passengers with only 3 guests testing positive! We've never been so busy booking dude ranches and National park tours. We continue to keep in contact with our industry insiders regarding the opening of international borders and when the cruise lines will be able to set sail once again.
Over the past 20 years Vacationkids has survived 9/11, recessions and many a devastating storm. After every disaster, travel has evolved for the better and rebounded stronger. While this come back may take a bit longer, we have every faith that it will be better. Perhaps if there are any positive things to come from Covid, perhaps we will all have a better appreciation for togetherness, the importance of making memories and the freedom of travel.