Despite grim news this week from the U.S. Travel Association, a long-time owner of Watertown-based Jefferson Travel said she remains optimistic that the business will survive and eventually, perhaps, even thrive again, when people are able to return to traveling the globe.
Co-owner of Jefferson Travel, Pat Ziwisky, said she and her business partner, Chris Ingersoll, have been in the travel business for a long time and have weathered many storms in their decades in vacation planning. She said their commissions from the airlines disappeared in the 1990s. They were then blind-sided by the terrorism of 9/11 that left many people fearful of flying. She said the economic downturn of 2008 hit the travel industry particularly hard, but called the COVID-19 pandemic, “the worst.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Travel Association reported that more than half of all small travel businesses in the U.S. are at risk of either taking longer than six months to recover, or never recovering at all from the harsh economic blows dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The numbers, prepared for U.S. Travel by the data analytics firm Tourism Economics, indicate an extreme threat to travel-supported jobs, which employed one in 10 Americans pre-pandemic,” the association said. “A massive 95% of all accommodation and food service employment is found within small and medium-size businesses, as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration, with only 5% of those sectors’ employment found in businesses categorized as ‘large.’ By comparison, only 28% of manufacturing jobs are found in small- or medium-sized businesses.”
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said the numbers highlight the urgent need for further legislative measures to provide immediate relief to small travel businesses and their employees, many of which were unable to access earlier rounds of aid.
“Washington acted quickly and aggressively to get assistance out the door in the early days of the pandemic, but the situation remains exceptionally dire on huge swaths of Main Street U.S.A., and more needs to be done,” Dow said.
More than half of travel-supported jobs in the U.S. disappeared between the onset of the pandemic and May 1, and the overall U.S. economy is projected to lose $1.2 trillion this year because of the drop in travel. Prior to the pandemic, travel was a Top 10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
“We’re hoping to be all right,” Ziwisky said, “but all of this is certainly a big issue for us. We’ve sold no trips since March, but we think there is hope.”
Ziwisky said the Jefferson Travel office, located in the heart of downtown Watertown since 2014, is staffed only on Tuesdays and Fridays during the pandemic. The rest of the time she and Ingersoll work remotely.
Ziwisky said the airlines and cruise companies are doing all they can to create safe environments for travelers.
She said she had to fly in July and was nervous about the proposition. When she got to the airport and on the plane, however, and saw the precautions and safety measures that were in place, Ziwisky said she relaxed and enjoyed the experience. She said she felt more at ease on her flight than she sometimes does while in public locally.
Ziwisky thinks things will loosen up in terms of travel in the early part of 2021, but that people are going to have to learn to adapt to some risk.
“We’re going to have to live with it,” she said of the pandemic and the different forms it will take over time. “Not being able to travel has depressed a lot of people.”
Ziwisky said the clientele of her now-rare “bricks and mortar” Jefferson Travel business is loyal and she believes when its members are comfortable about traveling again, business will pick up.
Ziwisky and Ingersoll have spent all of their working hours since March getting people their refunds back from trips that didn’t happen and motel rooms that went unoccupied. Ziwisky said a lot of people didn’t have the time to spend getting their refunds back, but she and Ingersoll dedicated themselves to the task. She said she thinks people have been grateful for their efforts and will give them their business again when the world opens up.
“We are in a consortium of 200 other travel agencies and most are still there,” she said. “We are hoping for a turnaround. We have a very loyal clientele that we believe will come back when they are ready to travel.”