Altair scaled back its 35 employees to three days a week. Blassie, who has been in the industry for four decades, has successfully navigated changing reimbursement models, the rise of internet agencies like Expedia, recession slowdowns and post-Sept. 11 skittishness.
None of that prepared her for a pandemic.
“Anyone that was providing travel services — it just went dead,” Blassie said. “It was a massacre.”
The travel industry lost $492 billion from March to December of last year. The trips that people did take were closer to home: camping in state parks or holing up at private beach condos. They didn’t require the wheel-greasing of travel agents, who compare prices, set up side tours, schedule transportation and offer advice.
But with the world opening up, agents anticipate a greater appreciation for their trouble-shooting capabilities and stores of knowledge, especially when it comes to changing COVID regulations.
River cruises, all-inclusive resorts, Disney excursions and other elaborate trips in which travel agents specialize can involve dozens of vendors, each with its own set of cancellation rules. Most travel insurance didn’t cover a pandemic.
“I’m sure many people got burned if they booked on their own,” Blassie said. She spent months straightening out jumbled arrangements. “We had to hammer hard and go back not once, not twice, but many, many times.”