Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

"April was my third best month in six years," Linda Welch, the owner and CEO of Blue Ash Travel in Blue Ash, Ohio, told me recently.

"My clients are fully vaccinated and ready to pack up and go," she said. "Although there is still a fair amount of uncertainty regarding international travel, most of them are itching to travel and are impressed with the safety protocols in the high-end resorts in the Caribbean."

Her target market is the luxury, all-inclusive sector with a specific focus on the Caribbean and Mexico. She's visited and done site inspections at 241 all-inclusives since she opened Blue Ash Travel in 2010.

I spoke with her last spring when the pandemic had halted travel.

"The future of travel is full of uncertainty so I'm just taking it day by day," she said at the time.

And I spoke to her again in December, a time when some islands in the Caribbean had begun phased reopenings with entry protocols and testing regulations were onerous and confusing. At that time mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders dominated the news, the peak winter season in the Caribbean was a loss and vaccination rollouts had not yet begun.

She told me then that "the phones don't ring."

"My clients are sitting on travel credits, just waiting to see if and when this will ever end."

Now her days are much busier. 

The bulk of her bookings right now are to all-inclusive properties in Punta Cana and Cancun and come from repeat clients who had to delay their travel plans last year.

Welch said that her clients, 75% of whom represent repeat business, appreciate the ease of entry in those destinations (no pre-testing required, no quarantine upon arrival), although the possibility of a lockdown in Cancun due to recent Covid spikes had her nervous.

"I require all my clients to purchase cancel for any reason insurance, and many of them add on to that with policies that cover them in the event they contract Covid while traveling," she said.

Many of her repeat clients hail from in and around the Cincinnati area, "but I'm getting new business too, spread by word of mouth from current clients as well."

"My clients do best with the all-inclusives, and right now there are some good deals and incentives out there," Welch said.

She also juggles booking travel business with her volunteer job as a court-appointed special advocate for an organization that deals with abused and neglected children who are in  foster care. That volunteer effort, she explained, "helps me keep my perspective."

Being a travel advisor during a pandemic requires "having a thick skin to handle the ups and downs of airline schedule changes, reopenings and then closures on short notice of destinations and resorts, the many layers of entry requirements and then having to calm disappointed clients whose travel dreams were put on hold."

Welch herself hasn't traveled since the world ground to a halt last March, but she's eager to resume that way of life, to visit new resorts and revisit those which have spent time during lockdown upgrading or expanding.

"Business is good. It's starting to come back to normal," she said.

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