TORONTO — Marianne Vogel’s daughter keeps telling her to throw in the towel and close up shop. But the Dundas, Ontario-based owner of Just for You Travel & Consulting stays open for one reason and one reason only: her loyalty to her clients.
Despite seeing limited income throughout the pandemic, Vogel, who considers herself “too old” to look for another job, has dug in her heels for the long haul. And even though this latest wave of the Omicron variant has resulted in a new spate of cancellations, Vogel has no plans to leave the industry that she loves anytime soon.
“I don’t want to leave my clients in the lurch, especially those who have future travel credits registered with my office,” says Vogel. “I’m staying in touch through social media and paying them personal visits and sending cards. Some will even be getting homemade bread delivered to them as a reminder that I’m still here to help.”
Over the past month, and since the federal government reinstated the non-essential travel advisory, Vogel has seen two big groups cancel: one booked for a resort stay in Panama next month, and the other scheduled to sail to Alaska at the end of May. With the Panama group, Vogel managed to roll them over to another date in 2023 (“Fingers crossed the supplier does not go bankrupt or the hotel does not close,” she says), while the cruise group has since agreed to think it over for a few days before making a final decision, as final payment is not due until the end of February. Vogel, however, is not hopeful following the CDC’s recent advisory against cruise travel.
“It has made things very difficult. I just got a call this morning from a couple going on a cruise at the end of February and are now looking to cancel. It’s all very sad and stressful,” says Vogel. “People are getting anxious about going anywhere – they’re not only frustrated by ever changing rules but they also don’t know what the rules will be when they return.”
After an extremely challenging 2021 Vogel is bracing for yet another difficult year, and with Air Canada Vacations temporarily suspending service to over a dozen sun destinations, and Transat cancelling nearly 30% of its winter flights, travel agents are in for even more lost revenue in the coming weeks. Although Vogel successfully applied for the Tourism & Travel Small Business Support Grant last year, which awarded one-time payments of $10,000 to $20,000 to hard-hit businesses, Vogel says those funds will dry up by mid-2022 and she is not eligible for any further government financial aid “as I do not pay rent as I work from home.”
Earlier this week, ACTA announced a new government proposal for financial aid and relief for independent agents. Known as ITARP (Independent Travel Agent Relief Program), it is now in the hands of senior government officials for review.
In the meantime, Vogel is keeping busy – and managing her anxiety levels – by delivering her husband’s homemade breads to frontline workers and those in need in her community, helping seniors book their vaccinations and boosters, and making and selling baby blankets and crafts at craft shows where, coincidentally, she has picked up new clients as a travel agent. She’s also supplementing her income by selling insurance to new clients who are unable to find COVID-19 coverage on their own.
“I try to help out in the community where I can – getting out in the public is important,” says Vogel. “Whether I’m printing up QR code certificates for seniors or taking bread to widows and families in need, I am supporting my clients the best way I can.”