Travel agent Bob Older last year refunded $300,000 in business and figures that he lost an equivalent amount in sales because of the pandemic. He called that “a double whammy.”
And yet Delaware hasn’t recognized the travel industry “as disproportionately affected and thereby eligible for state-based relief” helping businesses survive COVID-19. “The more I thought about it, the more I was annoyed,” he said. “I had to do something.”
His answer was to form the First State Travel Professionals Alliance, to advocate for the industry.
Older, founder of Creative Travel near Newark, also wants the new alliance to promote professionalism and ethics and “educate the general public about travel and the importance of using our members, who will be held to strong ethical standards.”
On Thursday, he sent out invitations to about 115 travel professionals and counts three of them – Tee Alexander of Cruise Planners, Elaine DeMichiel of TravelStar Elite and Jenn Donley of Donley Travel – as founding members and eventually board members. He’s also started the paperwork for a 501(c)6 status.
“I joined the alliance because Delaware’s travel industry needs advocacy and representation, which the organization will provide,” Alexander said.
“I joined to advocate for our state’s travel advisors and educate our government bodies and general consumers on the true economic impact of the travel industry in Delaware, while ensuring consistent ethical standards within our travel community,” DeMichiel said.
“I decided to join this organization as I have experienced first hand what this pandemic has done to the travel industry,” Donley said. “I want to also bring awareness to both the government and consumers on the impact in which the travel industry has on the state of Delaware.”
As founder of the Delaware Small Business Chamber, Older was involved in conference calls on pandemic relief and is trying to combat the misinformation that travel agents operate on a 25% profit margin (the reality is 8-15%) and convince officials that 100 state travel jobs lost is economically significant. He figures a dozen travel agencies have storefront offices like his, with the rest working from their homes, for a total of more than 200 travel agents.
Older emphasized that alliance members will be required to show state licensing and follow ethical practices. Membership in the alliance and national industry groups and consortiums are partly intended to give consumers confidence in their business and their advice, he added.
The alliance will also promote to consumers that buying services from a local agency “nine times out of 10 doesn’t cost any more, yet it supports local business and gets better support.”
Older is also concerned about the future of the industry. “If the pandemic ends tomorrow, almost every industry can make money the next day. We can’t.” Since commissions are paid months after trips are completed, “We make money well down the road.”