COVID-19 has decimated the travel industry both here and abroad.
The U.S. Travel Association said travel in the U.S. alone lost more than $10 billion last year while the World Tourism Organization recently estimated that international travel took a staggering hit of $935 billion.
So with travel having plummeted by more than 75 percent across the globe, you might wonder why JoAnne Michaud in November purchased a Dream Vacations franchise to start a full-service travel agency out of her Ahwatukee home.
“I’ve had a lot of people say ‘why do you want to do travel?’” said Michaud, who left the corporate world of healthcare operations to set off on her own in an industry ravaged by a virus that is still wreaking havoc on most countries and many industry sectors, particularly travel and entertainment.
But Michaud thinks this is an ideal time to start her travel agency – and not just because she has started a business in something she is passionate about.
“I really think that people are really wanting to travel,” she explained. “Just about anyone I know is saying ‘I can’t wait back to get back to traveling.’ People are tired of being homebound.”
And between the arrival of vaccines and the adoption of numerous safety protocols by every facet of the travel industry – from resorts and hotels to airlines and cruise ships – Michaud foresees a pent-up demand exploding by summer or fall.
“I think people now will start planning their vacations for summer and I really do think that we’re going to see probably a fairly significant increase in travel, I’m estimating, by late spring early summer.”
“Whether people believe in vaccines or not, I think making travel safe is happening on multiple fronts – the protocols being put in place by airlines and resorts and cruise ships to the vaccines being available. I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Michaud explained.
And she said she’s “not waiting until that demand just hits the front lines” and instead is “getting everything set up” to meet that travel tsunami she foresees later this year. “I’m doing a series of classes to become a specialist in different resorts, in different cruise lines and the classes are pretty lengthy for each group. Doing all of that now, I think, will position me to be really ready to address the demand.”
“This is a perfect time to be setting up the business,” she said, explaining those classes have consumed at least 150 hours of studying a seemingly endless array of subjects and resources to make sure her clients get the best prices and best experiences for their money.
Her research has been eye-opening – made even more astonishing by the fact that she’s no rookie when it comes to traveling.
“Travel has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember and I’ve been very blessed over the years to have seen so much of this wonderful world,” she said.
Ask Michaud about her own most memorable trips and she ticks off a list that includes “exploring islands throughout French Polynesia, hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, learning about history in different parts of Europe, traveling through Australia, taking a cruise from Hawaii to China and exploring South Pacific islands and Japan along the way, walking on the Great Wall of China and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian.”
She even owns a home in Panama, which she visits several times a year and about which she waxes enthusiastically for its climate, people and low cost of living.
Her preparation involves a lot more than knowing the major tourist attractions – “everything from working with different vendors and working with different systems, how to do the research to get the value for the client,” she said.
“And it’s learning a lot about the suppliers. It touches everything from the business aspect through how to book a client through whether it’s a cruise, whether it’s a resort, whether it’s just putting together a customized trip.”
It’s all part of what she feels she needs to accomplish her mission with a client: “My goal is to share my passion for travel with customers and provide them with exceptional value, customized service, and an overall excellent experience.”
While people can browse her website, jmichaud.dreamvacations.com – complete with a live search engine and booking capabilities – they also can work with her for personalized guidance.
“I walk clients step-by-step through the entire booking and planning process, from selecting destinations and excursions based on clients’ interests to enhancing special occasions,” she said, noting she is now part of the World Travel Holdings family of brands, one of the top travel retail networks in the world that she says offers “incredible buying power with every major cruise line and many tour operators, resulting in exceptional value and exclusive offers.”
Michaud also stressed that she’s just not a booking expert who can find better deals faster than people likely will experience if they try to map out their own trip through popular travel search engines.
“Working through a travel advisor, they become your liaison and it makes it a lot easier for customers,” Michaud said. “Data also show that from a time perspective, a travel agent can on average save 15 to 20 hours of planning” and an average $400 on a trip through a combination of cheaper prices and perks that an agent’s vendors tack on.
Besides that, should a client encounter a problem, Michaud is at their beck and call to resolve it, whether it’s a canceled flight, a reservation mix-up or some other snafu that could ruin a trip for someone who’s going it alone.
Beyond that, Michaud said she’s prepared to customize trips to meet any age group, any group size, marital status or special occasion like an anniversary or honeymoon.
Indeed, ask her what happens if someone comes to her and doesn’t know where they want to go, Michaud has a list of questions to help develop some suggestions they might not have even thought about on their own.
Michaud has had so many memorable trips that she had trouble singling out one place she liked above all others. But she had no problem replying when asked the trip she wants to take above all others.
“I absolutely want to go to Africa and I’ve always wanted to do a big game safari and see the big animals in the wild,” she said. “That’s always been something that’s fascinated me.”
Information: jmichaud.dreamvacations.com, 919-452-0227.