Cooped up in their homes and grounded for air travel during the past year and a half, people are now planning for trips in the United States and abroad.
Travel agencies are ready to guide them on their journey.
“Everyone is traveling and everyone wants to go somewhere,” said Diane Mullahy, owner and president of Travel Leaders, a Framingham travel agency. “I’ve owned the business for 35 years. We’ve been through 9/11, we’ve been through tsunamis, we’ve been through volcanos. We’ve been through everything.”
“Through every natural disaster we’ve had, people that book online can never get help,” Mullahy said. Her business, she said, has stopped working with certain hotels and cruise lines that didn’t prioritize helping customers when COVID-19 hit.
“We know who’s going to service our people,” Mullahy said.
During the pandemic, Andrea Roberts, a co-owner of Arpin Travel Agency in Bellingham, said the business couldn’t exactly close shop, even though no one could travel.
“We had to get people’s money back and work with wholesalers and cruise lines and airlines just trying to retrieve money,” Roberts said. “I recommend booking here, local, only because we’ve got your back. We don’t work for the airline, we work for the customer.”
A person whose job it is to make sure things go smoothly and track down refunds is one of the benefits of using a travel agency, including providing 24-hour help if someone gets stranded.
“My number one advice is to use, obviously, I’d like them to use me,” Mullahy joked, “But if not, use a travel agency or a travel consultant. But I would shy away from online just so they can get the help they need.”
An attempt to get comment from Expedia.com, an online travel booking website, was unsuccessful.
Lisa Jasmin, the other co-owner of Arpin Travel, warned that flight prices change frequently. She said a travel agency can help travelers get the best price because agencies have more access to airlines and sites to find the best prices.
“It’s hard to pinpoint what day or time of day is the best time to book,” Jasmin said. “They are still fluctuating like crazy.”
Mullahy said people are planning more intergenerational trips — wanting to travel with family.
“People were renting a lot of housing,” Mullahy said. “People are happier now to do that and gather with their families than go to hotels.”
She said last year, big houses or villas were impossible to find, a trend she thinks will continue. She added that luxury travel — private jets, villas and the like — continues to be popular.
“People did want to fly private. They didn’t want to fly commercial. They didn’t want to go to a hotel,” Mullahy said. “They discovered these villas and private jets and they realized they were probably a little more affordable than they thought, and people are sticking with that. It was interesting that the whole luxury market went high.”
Flights and restrictions
Roberts recommends staying up to date about guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the U.S still requires travelers to get tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of returning to the country, even for those who are fully vaccinated.
Roberts and Mullahy also stressed checking and double-checking flights — even as late as the day of departure.
“People don’t realize that there’s been a lot of schedule changes after ticketing, so we always tell people to reconfirm their flights before getting to the airport,” Roberts said. “With us, we let them know ahead of time, but (the airlines) really have scheduled changes up to the last day.”
For people cautious about traveling abroad, there are plenty of things to do in the U.S., such as touring national parks, Roberts said.
Travel is expected to be heavy going to Europe in late summer and fall, Mullahy said.
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“They just announced last week that the EU was opening. Greece has been open and Croatia, so those have been good markets,” Mullahy said. “People are still a little skittish about going to Europe, which, my opinion is, it would be a nice time to go to Europe because it wouldn’t be as crowded, and we’re welcomed there and we don’t have to wear masks. Coming in July, they’re going to open it up to U.S. travelers.”
Ireland and Scotland are popular destinations, but she noted that things like golf courses are booking out through 2023 already, so being open to planning far ahead is key.
Roberts recommends group excursions for those traveling by themselves. For example, singles cruises are starting up again at the end of the summer.
“Usually, if you’re a single person I’d recommend a tour,” Roberts said. “They’re with a group and they’re not necessarily on their own.”
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Many people don’t use travel agents for local travel, but she says her agency can help with booking the Cape, the coast of Maine or the Lakes Region in New Hampshire. In Vermont for families, there’s an all-inclusive type getaway at Smugglers’ Notch she recommends.
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Whether you’re planning a trip this summer or looking farther ahead, being flexible and double-checking itineraries will be crucial for a stress-free getaway.