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Amy Grishman of Swampscott refused to bend over when COVID-19 brought the economy to its knees in March because she knew people shared the passion that motivated her to start the Charm & Awe Travel Company.
“Most of the people I book for itch to travel,” she said.
A native of Lynn, she loves traveling so much that she took the opportunity to book family outings. Grishman combined her wanderlust with a marketing background to start Charm & Awe four years ago, and she was steadily building her business when COVID-19 hit.
“The pandemic had a huge impact on my business. The bookings have stopped, ”she said.
Amid health concerns and social distancing, airlines saw business crash in March and the travel industry suffered collateral damage as conventions, trips, tours, cruises and vacations were canceled.
Grishman’s fellow travelers at travel agents in the Lynn area felt the same pain she endured. Some are less optimistic about the industry’s outlook for recovery. Others, including 25-year-old industry veteran Yakov Tseitlin, who owns Free Wind Travel in Lynn, are poised to quit the company.
“I haven’t seen a deal and can’t wait for it to get back on its feet in a few years,” said Tseitlin.
He is preparing to convert part of his Central Square office into a showroom for high quality espresso machines and is ready to sign a sales agreement with an Italian company.
Tseitlin fondly remembers the days before the Internet, when it meant calling a travel agent. The airlines paid commissions for agents to combine flight routes with tour and vacation packages.
Periwinkle Travels’ Leighan Hennigan lost all but three of their customers to COVID-19 cancellations. Drawing on her nursing experience, she worked at Salem Hospital to treat COVID-19 patients despite struggling to keep her travel agent alive.
“People called to book trips for 2021 but as a nurse I could see where it was going and decided not to book trips,” Hennigan said.
She shares former Marblehead travel agent Joel Abramson’s prospect of trips returning to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, not sooner. Meanwhile, Hennigan predicts the travel industry will experience a shift that will drive other small agents out of business.
“I have very little overhead so I’ll keep going until things recover,” she said.
Abramson said travel bookings for convention and group travel will skip 2021 and will be scheduled for 2022 at the earliest. The Swampscott resident said hotels and destinations such as convention centers are undergoing major changes, including improvements to ventilation to relieve anxious travelers.
The internet changed the travel industry even before the COVID-19 hit, and Tseitlin said online bookings are a double-edged sword for travelers. Less experienced people are drawn to deals without realizing they are sacrificing the hassle-free experience that agents are experts at.
Lynnfield-based Kathy Lucey ran her Saugus travel agent for 40 years before moving to her home this year. She is optimistic that the travel industry will recover from COVID-19. Your customers will book trips in two years.
“People want something to feel good,” Lucey said.
“My customers are starting to book again,” she said.