As the state takes its first steps to begin reopening, representatives within the travel industry are biding their time hoping to see Phase 2 begin soon.

As several local businesses have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, travel agents and others in the travel industry have endured especially heavy hits. States effectively closed themselves off from out-of-state travelers, and residents were forced to remain at home.

DeRidder-based travel advisor Annette Duplechin of Great White Travels has handled countless international trips for her clients, with a significant amount being cruise-based. As the world reacted to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Duplechin was forced to spend much of her time handling cancellations rather than bookings this year.

“It has been a dark time in this industry, for certain,” Duplechin acknowledged to the American Press.

“As a local business that just opened up this past year, the pandemic has caused a large amount of anxiety for travelers and created struggles for myself as a new business and even for established advisors.”

Now, as the state embraces Phase 1 of reopening and begins eyeing the next phase in the coming months, Duplechin said she believes traveling will become more of a local venture for families for both affordability and availability.

“Families are still wanting to take advantage of their summers, as shortened as they may be this year, and they are looking for budget-friendly options that still give them a feeling of enjoying a getaway,” Duplechin said.

If the state is able to move into Phase 2, Duplechin said those travels will become available; however, the pandemic may have long-term effects on agencies and how they operate.

“For much of this year, advisors have essentially been working for free because we only receive payment when our clients take their trip. At the beginning of this pandemic, some cruise lines or destinations would still honor commissions on cancelled trips. That has changed in recent weeks, and so many agents are beginning to re-evaluate if they should begin charging minor fees for services upfront from clients in order to protect their businesses,” she said.

While many travelers before would have taken travel plans into their own hands to avoid paying an agent fee, Duplechin said she believes the perceived value of a travel agent will likely increase post-COVID-19.

“Most vendors and suppliers communicate directly with advisors or our corporate home office on a regular basis. So in a world of ever-changing information we have the most updated and sure information that is available,” she said.

“Another plus is that a client of mine will never have to sit on hold dealing with a cruise line or other vendor to get questions answered regarding their upcoming or cancelled trip. That phone call on hold for hours is my job, and many are willing to use an advisor for that reason alone in these times.”

While the virus has certainly caused a large amount of stress for local businesses and the travel industry, Duplechin said she remains convinced the industry will make a rebound as the nation reopens.

“A large amount of my business is cruise-based since we are perfectly situated between two major ports, and there is one trend that is undeniable. If someone has never cruised before, they are potentially cancelling and waivering on rebooking. If they have cruised before, however, they are rescheduling as soon as possible. With enhanced safety and sanitation protocols being put in place by all travel suppliers, particularly cruise lines, there is no question that avid cruisers will be sailing again as soon as possible. People love to travel, and this virus has not dissolved that love one bit at all. It may have slowed us down, but the travel industry will rebound quickly.”

According to the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Phase 2 of reopening would allow non-essential travel to resume, along with the reopening of activities and large venues with moderate physical distancing guidelines in place.

On Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s optimistic the state could reach Phase 2 by June 5.

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