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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 3, 202005:20 AM EST

Coronavirus Pandemic: Your Insight: Travel agency reschedules bookings as ‘the globe is closed’

Avondale Travel owner Leigh Elizabeth Israel says clients are booking into the future.

Avondale Travel advisers are watching the world from the isolation of their home offices as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down the industry.

“Everyone across the globe is closed. It’s been a shocking, shocking past few weeks,” said agency owner and President Leigh Elizabeth Israel.

Her goal is to be ready for the industry turnaround and she thanks the clients of the 46-year-old agency, which is older than she is, for rescheduling their travel plans rather than canceling.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we are rebooking clients, moving dates and booking into the future,” Israel said March 27.

Corporate clients, about half of the business, are halting travel while leisure travelers are choosing new dates.

Israel, 33, grew up in the agency and took over after her father, Louis Black, died in May 2017. He founded Avondale Travel in 1974.

It survived several economic downturns, including the Great Recession that started in 2008, as well as 9/11 and other national and global shocks.

“We don’t know when everything is going to start opening back up and when the U.S. is going to flatten the curve,” she said when asked for a guess about when the virus might be in check and the economy starts to recover.

Clients are rebooking into July and beyond.

She said that the industry is offering incentives for those willing to book as they await the lifting of travel restrictions.

Israel predicts a bright future for the global travel industry and is optimistic that quarantined people “are going to want to get out and go.”

Clients count on Israel to monitor the situation.

She keeps in contact with her seven in-house advisers and six Southeast independent contractors who are working remotely. She furloughed two advisers for a few weeks. 

Avondale Travel closed its Orange Park office, a decision she made some time ago. Those advisers moved to the Avondale address.

Israel keeps in touch with clients who trust her to monitor policies and worldwide rule changes.

She and her advisers maintain communication with their global partners – hotels, airlines, cruise lines and other destinations.

And she remains close with the merchants in the tightknit historic Shoppes of Avondale, where Avondale Travel operates at 3657 St. Johns Ave.

“Everyone has been working together, which I love,” Israel said. “It shows the power of technology.”

Social media likely has strengthened relationships and creativity, she said. FaceTime, texts, emails, calls and other digital communication easily connect people.

“It’s brought our industries and our partners closer together than ever,” she said.

“It’s been fun seeing everyone’s smiling faces in quarantine.”

Israel’s goal is to keep the agency healthy and her advisers on the payroll.

“We want to make sure they have a home to come back to when all this is over and make sure we can pay payroll and expenses and keep our doors open,” she said.

Israel said Avondale Travel has been cautious about its expenses and maintained a financial cushion.

“That is smart business,” she said. “We are fortunate that we have that cushion and that we have been financially sound and we still are.”

Israel advises small businesses to “get creative.”

She suggests they review expenses to cut those “you don’t have to have right now.” Talk to their landlords. Reach out to other local business owners.

“We are all in hard times, but here is how we can help each other,” she said. “Everyone is in it together.”

At Avondale Travel, “we sat down and went over what is a necessity. What do we need to make payroll? What do we need to keep open the doors? Failure and closure is not an option,” she said.

Israel said that growing up, she watched what her father had to deal with, “but it’s interesting going through it firsthand.”

Israel also is experiencing another first. Her first pregnancy is twin daughters who are due in August.

She assures her clients the agency remains committed to its mission.

“Avondale Travel is not going anywhere.”


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