A Travel Agent Wrestles with Covid 19

Updated: Jul 6


Flying in the Age of COVID-19

Podcast: Getting along with climate change

A podcast where we talk to anyone and everyone about how climate change is affecting their daily lives.

Interview transcript: Tammy Hermanson, Madison, Wisconsin – Travel Agent

“Today we are talking with Tammy Hermanson. Welcome Tammy.”

“Thanks for having me.”

“This is our very first podcast and I have to tell people that this was not a difficult interview to get since you live across the street.”

“But yet here we are on video.”

“True. I should also let people know that you are also own your own business Tammy Hermanson Travel and we thought that would be an interesting thing to talk about today in light of what is going on around the world. So, again, thank you for being here. Tammy, I was looking on your website and see that you have been in the travel business for over twenty years.”

“Yes, since 1998.”

“You weren’t in business on your own all that time, were you?”

“No, no, actually my first my first eleven years were with an agency here in town called Barclay Travel who has since retired, and then I spent four years at Burkhalter Travel, going out on my own in 2013. I’ve been working out of my home now for over 7 years.”

“Is it different being on your own as opposed to being in an agency? Is there a different set of clients or customers or are there substantial day to day changes?”

“It is a little bit more based on referral and, you know, people finding me online versus being in an office that has a large phone system, where people have a lot more advertising dollars to spend and customers just look in a phone book or Google a travel agency. But most of my business even for the number of years I've been in it has all been repeat business and referrals. Referrals are fantastic! If you make one person happy hopefully you can make five of their friends happy.”

“So are most of your customers are individuals like me or do you have commercial customers as well.”

“I've never enjoyed the aspect of commercial or business travel. No offense to business travelers there's a lot that goes on for them but they're usually high demand and very busy and a lot of changing from this to that. I just don't enjoy doing that. My aspect and passion is more about the researching the history of places in Europe for my customers or just getting someone to a beach where they can sit and relax and enjoy the sun, the ocean and a cold drink, I can identify with that.”

So, my take on travel agents is they work two weeks and then they get free 30 days of travel from resorts around the world and they come home, work two weeks and they are off for another wonderful escapade.

“Yeah right. There's not as many freebies in the world as there used to be. Back in the day, as agents would say, you could hop on an airline and pretty much fly standby free and that doesn't really happen that much anymore but there's a lot of hotel suppliers that we work with that if you sell a certain number of nights in a year you might earn a week free, but you have to use it at a certain time. So, whether or not you can get away at that time determines whether or not you actually get to use it, but yeah, I’ve done my fair share of traveling.”

“One of the nice things about talking to you first is that it's June 2020 and the travel industry has been impacted recently as you probably know. So, before asking you directly about climate change but I want to take you back to the beginning of February to ask how it all went down for you. I imagine early February you probably have some pretty robust business at that point. People are getting ready to go somewhere in the summer and in the Fall and then it gets March 1st, and then a week or so later, and all hell breaks loose. So, what was it like an on and off switch for you or was it….”

“It started out being a start/stop thing. At first, I thought this whole thing was a big hoax or I shouldn’t say hoax. I thought it was a joke. I thought this is something in China it's not gonna move anywhere. Then it started to move across Europe, and I started getting a little bit more nervous. Then you realize it's happening, and I started getting the phone calls from clients wanting to know what they should we do. What's going on?


For me it was March 19th when you could say things really hit the fan. I think the week before I had two clients who decided to cancel trips and, the very next week, I got word from most of my major beach suppliers that countries were closing their borders. Then planes were not going to be flying up from March 16th and onward. Since that time, I've had at least 40 trips canceled and a few people we are working with to reschedule because they feel that they still want to go. So, I've probably got about 5 trips that I've rescheduled from March to July or August. I still have a few people that are holding out hope to go this fall but right now the phone's really not ringing. I'm busy on a daily basis but I'm still dealing with getting refunds for people. My pile of business is basically monitoring refunds and that’s taking forever.”


Fishing in the Southern Rockies

“We arrived in Arizona's on March 1st for Spring Training and the very next day we heard that the Colorado Rockies were thinking about postponing their entire preseason which we thought was totally absurd. We had no idea what they were talking about but it was like 10 or 12 days later that all the teams in the major leagues had canceled the entire spring training. Now we were trying to figure out how to get home as fast as we could. You were a great help because you were able to move a couple days around for us. I mean things changed so rapidly. Overnight people were scrambling to get back home. Did you have a many people out there in our situation?”

“Fortunately, not many. Most of my people were able to travel in February. You guys were in the middle of your vacation, but it wasn't as drastic since you were still on the continent. I did have some families who were scheduled to go overseas to visit their kids who were in college for the semester and suddenly had to work on getting their kids home from Europe because they were saying you have to be home by this date or that date. A few families lost their European vacations and frantically were trying to get their child home but I was pretty fortunate that most of my issues were having to cancel vacations. Other than three or four, most were canceled before they even left so it wasn't a nerve racking “Hey! Get Me Out of here” kind of thing.”

“We left for vacation on March 1st and by the time we came home on the 17th and it was like from no concern at all to “Oh my God” we have to go to an airport. I will say by that time, the 17th of March, we could have taken a bowling ball rolled it down the airport concourse and not hit anybody. Nobody was in airports at that point. We were also worried. Were customers of yours worried about traveling with this virus around at that time?”

“Obviously, people have been worried about losing their vacation and were disappointed, but most were happy that they were home before it really got bad. With you guys, you were actually still in the United States so worst case scenario, you would have rented a car and drove home, but you were still somewhere familiar. I think for some people, especially overseas students, the hard part was being in a strange country for only a month. One was scheduled to be there for six months and wasn't really completely comfortable with things yet, and then there were language barriers and not knowing what to think.

There was a lot of disappointment with not being able to take vacations, but you know when it comes down to it this has really struck the economy. People were not working and not getting paid and now they have me telling them they're going to get a refund but it's going to take three months. When you think about the size of summer vacation cost and then have to wait three months for their refund its tough.

The vendors that I work with are not just dealing with my 10 cancellations they're dealing with thousands of cancellations and the only way that they can do things to make it fair is by date order so if you traveling on this date you know that's how they're working through things. For the most part people are being good about it, but we've gotten to a point where we've been cooped up too long and our irritation levels have gotten higher. I said to a client a week ago, you're as tired of hearing me say “Please be patient” as I am of hearing vendors tell me to be patient. It’s kind of a trickle-down from one level to another to another.”


Reaching Out to Travel

“There’s an airline industry, there's a cruise industry, you’ve got the trains out there. What are they are they telling you about what's happening and where it's going or are you hearing nothing?”

“I would have to say the cruise industry has probably been the best and they're getting hit pretty hard. The entire Alaskan cruise season which runs from the middle of May to middle of September has been completely shut down. Cruise lines initially had decided they would stop sailing through the end of June. Well, that's halfway into a season so pretty much every cruise line decided that's not worth doing. Just last week Canada decided they're not going to be opening up their borders for cruise ships so the entire Canada-New England season which goes through October is now shut down.

The cruise lines send multiple emails a day telling us what's going on. They tell us where they're at, they've been very up to date and keeping us completely involved in what's going on, so we know what to tell people. My Mexico/Caribbean hotel company emails every other day telling us when they plan to reopen and what changes there are.

When you reference climate change, one of the biggest concerns I've actually had is with all these companies talking about how they're going to keep things cleaner. My biggest concern was, uh-oh here we go all the chemicals again. Deep cleanings coming back and a lot of them are still there still trying to focus on staying green but staying clean. You and I have talked before about this. I've always had a pet peeve with hotels that have the little signs in the bathroom “a hung towel helps us stay green”, but then the housekeeping takes them and washes them anyway. So, there's just certain aspects of it that I really hope work out. While trying to keep people be safe from COVID-19 I hope that they don't revert back to the use of high-powered chemicals that wind up in the oceans or killing the trees and flowers around the place.”

“You've talked a little bit about people and places that are off limits going forward. Canada may not allow cruise ships etc. Are there going to be new rules and regulations to the travel industry because of potential pandemics if not this one maybe the next one.”

“I'm fairly positive all airlines are now going to make face masks mandatory on the plane for their staff and passengers. I've heard mixed things from people who have been flying on whether or not you have to wear your mask while you're at the airport. I think there's still enough spacing in the terminals themselves that if they're not at capacity people may not be forced to wear the mask in the terminal. Some of the resorts are making certain public areas places where they are going to ask people to wear their mask. If you're walking around the resort or if you're in the lobby area they may ask you to wear it, but obviously, when you're sitting around the pool they're not going to have you have to wear it or when you are going for your meals and things like that. I think there are certain aspects that are going to be difficult and it's going to be trial and error as they open as to how things are going to work out.”

“What about getting to destinations and how far people are going to travel? Are there are going to be fewer people jumping on airplanes or jumping on cruise ships? Are they going to go shorter distances? How do you see all that?”

“A lot of the articles I've been reading are speculating that, especially for the US, domestic travel is going to be at a premium this year because more people are going to want to stay closer to home. Maybe they're not going to do Europe this year. I have some people that actually cancelled their trip for May of next year because they insist they won't travel until there's a vaccine. We have no idea if that's ever going to happen. I mean, it will happen but when? Our national parks could get overrun with people. If they want a trip but also stay going close to home them, maybe they’ll look for something that they can drive to rather than fly to.

A few people that I've booked recently said there were maybe 15 people on an 80-seat plane. It's definitely down but I also think we're getting to a point where people are tired of being home, they want to get back out. I'm hoping that the desire to get out and travel will coincide with a desire to also stay healthy. If we just follow the rules. Please wear a mask, it's not going to hurt you to wear mask for a couple hours on a plane.”


“Tammy, a lot of businesses are not making it. Many have simply gone out of business. What about ‘Tammy Hermansen Travel’? I mean, going forward, what does survival look like for you? Do you have a strategy? Do you hunker-down and kind of wait this out or do you go out steal somebody's business or what?”

“I'm self-employed. I work from home I don't have an overhead that I have to worry about. I don't have to worry about where my rent payment is going to come from. I don't have employees, so I don't have to worry about making anyone’s payroll but my own. Because of the way that I work, if I don't make a sale, I don't get paid, but I'm also the type of person that doesn't have to live paycheck to paycheck. I have a savings and I feel that I can ride this out a year and it's not going to put me out. If I have three down years, then we might have to question things.

I have to believe that 2020 is probably in the books, you know, and unless they truly believe that we're going to have a good July/August before this virus might rear its ugly head again, maybe I'll get a rush on people that decide they want to get out of here for a little bit. Right now, I it breaks my heart to know that there are businesses that are going under. There are travel businesses, a lot of retail storefront agencies that are closing their doors. Companies have the overhead to worry about that it's hurting them. If you can get rid of some of those expenses, then you might be able to ride it out a little bit longer.”

“I want to transition here to talk a little bit more about climate change in your life. I guess my linking question would be this. We are in the midst of this a pandemic and there's been a whole lot made about the relationship between pandemics and climate change and whether they are aren't locked together. I guess my first question would be; How do you see that? Do you think that's true?”

“You know, I actually think that this pandemic has shown us, based on all the pictures that I have seen all over the world over the last three months, how different things can look when the multitude of people we have on this earth are not out every day. I can reference pictures that I saw of the LA skyline three or four weeks apart and it went from barely visible to completely clear.

I realize I put people in airplanes, I put people in cars and on cruise ships, and they do emit pollution, so, yes, there's an issue with what I do and how it affects the climate. But, I think if people think that everyone staying at home and being off the road and out of their cars hasn't made a difference they’re delusional. It has made a difference. So, if we can get back on a day-to-day basis to things like carpooling and take a couple of cars off the road or use public transportation to keep some cars off the road, I think it would make a difference.”

“There are six questions we usually ask people at the end of the interview about climate change. We've answered some of these already but I'm just going to run through them. When you hear that climate change is occurring, and that there's environmental degradation, and that humans seem to be contributing, what is your first reaction? What's your gut feeling when somebody brings that up? What's the first thing that comes to your mind?”

“The first thing that comes to my mind is the younger generation and what are they are going to have to live through. I'm middle aged. I hope I have 30 or 40 more years around here, but I think about my nieces and nephews that are bringing kids into the world and I wonder what it's going to look like if we continue down the path that we're going, and not taking care of our climate.”

“What do you think the forces are that are causing climate change thing and environmental degradation?”

“I don't know if I can answer that. Look at what's going on in the world right now with the riots and everything else. I think the bottom is we all need to learn to get along and work together and come to an agreement. You can't continue to have the opposing forces saying there's no climate change, it's fine. There is scientific proof that it is happening, but too many people are making what should be a reasoned decision into a political argument. Get politics out of it and look at life in general. Clean air keeps a person alive. If we don't have clean air we don't have people.”

“Beyond working together, what what needs to be done?”

The changes that you personally have made in your home with buying more environmentally friendly or getting rid of certain things we all need to do. If each individual can start at home making the changes to eliminate plastics eliminate and toxic chemicals. It’s a beginning. I've started making my own soaps. I've been making my own hand sanitizers. I just bought “bites toothpaste” that come in a glass jar so there's no tubes. I feel if every household could make one change it will snowball into bigger and bigger things. Then it snowballs outside your home to your friends’ homes and sooner or later it's going to continue to grow. I think recycling makes a big difference. You guys started composting. I've been thinking that I should do that. It's the little things that we can all do. In the travel industry it’s going back to staying clean and healthy at the same time. I just hope people go back to being cleaner and greener.

Speaking of solutions, do you consider yourself to be a more a part of the problem or the solution?

I guess personally I'm trying to be a part of the solution but professionally, because I'm still selling airline tickets, yeah that's probably a part of the problem. The airline industry is trying to address issue. The only way is to find a greener way to operate their aircraft. People are always going to want to travel so if they want to stay in business, they're going to have to find ways to do that.

If you can minimize a little it makes a difference. When I was a kid our travel was always by car. I didn't see an airplane until I was 22 years old. Nowadays travel is not an luxury, it's a necessity for people so they're going to continue to do it. However, even when I'm traveling myself I see people that are being more conscious of not having the wasteful plastics. I know one resort chain that completely did away with bottled water. They have water stations all over their resort with fresh water all the time and more and more people are bringing their stainless water bottles.

“Last question: 50 years from now what do you think the world will look like?”

“I have a positive feeling about it, I really do. I think because the younger generation is paying more attention, I really think that they're going to make a difference and I think that our world is still going to be beautiful. I'm looking across the street and seeing beautiful green trees and green grass and I think it's still going to be that way in 50 years.”


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