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Illinois

Peoria Travel Agent: 2020 Was Year For ‘Great Upheaval’

Barb Hoffman, a travel agent for Direct Travel in Peoria, said 2020 was a year like no other when it came to her industry.

“(The travel) business has been almost nonexistent until just recently. I like to say it was the year of the great upheaval,” she said.

“People are looking ahead to 2021 and being a little more hopeful. But as much as we want to turn (things) around now, it will still be a slow haul up that hill,” said Hoffman.

Instead of booking trips, travel agents spent the year helping customers with cancellations or getting extensions from airlines or cruise companies, she said. “Because (the pandemic) has been just a novel situation, every provider—like a cruise line, airline or travel company—everybody had different ways of handling this. A lot of what we have done in the last eight months has involved getting people refunds and vouchers,” said Hoffman.

Cruise lines were especially hard-hit by the pandemic with only a couple of Caribbean cruises scheduled after the outbreak, she said. “They were almost test cruises,” said Hoffman.

“The whole (travel) thing is up in the air, literally. The only thing we know now is that more people are flying than they did before—not that it’s anything close to what it was but people have to go places,” she said.

Hoffman said it helps that central Illinois residents are served by an airline like Allegiant that provides direct flights between Peoria and a winter favorite like Mesa, Arizona. “People can get on a plane here and get off there without having to go through a busy airport or go through security more than once,” she said.

Airlines are doing what they can to encourage travel, said Hoffman. Some airlines continue to keep the middle seat open while making cleaning a priority, she said.

“The planes, themselves, are probably safer than they’ve ever been. Sanitary-wise, they’re cleaner than a whistle,” said Hoffman, acknowledging that a recovery for the airline industry won’t come overnight.

“I think a smart person would say it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be anything that will happen in the next six months or a year. I don’t know if it will ever take the same form,” she said.

But Hoffman was optimistic about the future of travel because that’s what people want to do. “That’s one thing we have to look forward to—to see the Grand Canyon again, to fly to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower, to be able to go to Rome and see the Vatican. We all want to do things like that,” she said.

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