Local travelers are eager to set sail next year, according to two travel agents.
Grueninger Travel and Travel Leaders have been booking clients on various 2021 and 2022 cruises.
Many of the upcoming vacations are actually rebookings for 2020 cruises that were canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, the agents said.
Debbie Hanauer, Grueninger's president, said most clients aren't looking to sail away during the winter months, a time of year when vacationers typically flee for warmer climates.
The summer cruise season – May through September – is the most in-demand, she said. Public health experts predict COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available by the middle of next year. Local travelers are paying attention to that timing, Hanauer said.
The pandemic also seems to be factoring into their choice of destinations.
“I think customers are looking to stay a little bit closer to home, and Alaska feels a little closer to home,” she said, offering an explanation for the surge in Alaskan cruise bookings.
Hanauer has been booking cruises for clients eager to visit Iceland, Greenland and the British Isles. She has also booked multiple river cruises, which use smaller ships.
Grueninger has seen more clients interested in domestic travel, including Mississippi River cruises and national parks itineraries.
-Sherry Slater, The Journal Gazette
Many passengers who previously appreciated the convenience of travel agent assistance have discovered how helpful the professionals can be when low passenger loads require unexpected airline schedule changes.
Measures taken to reduce the risk of contracting the new coronavirus COVID-19 hit air travel hard in March, and “the airlines’ policies were changing almost hourly at the beginning. And one airline did not necessarily align their policies with another airline’s policies,” said Mona Will, an agent with Grueninger Travel Service.
“We are constantly updated with changes,” she said. “The airlines have done a great job of keeping us informed, but a lot of times there are gray areas that are not specifically stated one way or the other in their policies, and, therefore, we tell someone, ‘Yes, your ticket is refundable, or no, your ticket is not refundable.’
“We have to sit on phones forever and ever to get some answers before we can give people the answer that is the answer at that moment.”
Allegiant Air and all of the commuter airlines feeding the major carrier brands American, Delta and United still fly out of Fort Wayne International Airport, but all of them have reduced their scheduled service there, in line with similar service changes they have made at airports across the country.
The most noticeable local change may have been a suspension of Delta feeder flights to its Atlanta hub. That route will be back next month.
“American’s change has been a whopper too,” Will said. The airline suspended the Fort Wayne-Philadelphia route and reduced the Fort Wayne-Charlotte, North Carolina, route to once daily from twice a day.
“Both of those situations have complicated plans because they’re hubs and people who are flying to the East Coast often connect through Charlotte or Philadelphia to get to East Coast destinations,” she said.
“They definitely are used as connecting flights for international flights — the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and South America.”
- Doug LeDuc, Fort Wayne Business Weekly
The president of a local travel firm remains optimistic about an uptick in business.
“We are seeing some interest in the fall and there are some great travel deals out there,” said Debbie Hanauer of Grueninger Travel in Fort Wayne. “We've definitely rebooked a lot of people for the fall. We've definitely rebooked a lot of honeymoons.”
Airlines, cruise and tour companies have been exceptionally gracious in offering opportunities and sweetening the pot, she said. “They've been just incredibly customer friendly, especially for people who never purchased insurance.”
Even airlines that traditionally have had fees to make any change on booked fares are waiving those costs, Hanauer said.
She and her agents have been busy trying to communicate to customers additional measures being taken by those in the industry, ranging from extra sanitizing to social distancing, to increase travelers' comfort level.
– Lisa Green, The Journal Gazette
Grueninger Travel Service of Fort Wayne was recently honored as one of the top travel agencies in North America, receiving ELITE status by TRAVELSAVERS, an international marketing organization that includes the most knowledgeable travel consultants and best travel suppliers in the world today.
“Grueninger Travel is thrilled to be honored with Elite status by TRAVELSAVERS,” said Deborah Hanauer, President of Grueninger Travel. “This is a direct reflection of the knowledge and savvy displayed by my team of diligent travel agents. We’re passionate travelers ourselves, and love having the opportunity every day to bring that same excitement to our clients.”
“We’re so proud to say that these travel professionals are the best of the best, the crème de la crème," said Rick Mazza, Founder and CEO of TRAVELSAVERS. "These are the agents who have risen to the top by providing their clients with the best travel products at the best prices. Because they take the time to get to know their clients and understand their very specific needs, they deliver travel experiences that satisfy. We salute them for their commitment to excellence in all of their business practices and the superior customer service they offer each and every day.”
About Grueninger Travel
Grueninger Travel is a full-service travel agency that can customize and plan trips to fit any client’s unique needs. The Fort Wayne-based agency is proudly family-owned and operated for the past 46 years, offering planning services for everything from cruises to casino trips, honeymoons, and more.
TRAVELSAVERS (www.travelsavers.com) is an international marketing organization owned by American Marketing Group, Inc., with a retail chain of more than 3,000 independently owned full-service travel agencies in 30 countries that generates more than $20 billion in annual travel industry sales. Headquartered in Oyster Bay, N.Y., TRAVELSAVERS offers a comprehensive range of products and support services to help its agencies maximize sales through a select group of suppliers -- and stand out as travel leaders in their local communities. The marketing company also features a unique exclusive territory system based on populations of 50,000, so agents maintain control over clients and prospective leads in their exclusive area.