You Are Not Alone: Travel Agents Share Stories from the Front Lines

April 2, 2020

On April 1st, Stephanie Lee, founder of HAR facilitated a critical conversation about how different types of travel advisors are supporting travelers and adapting their business strategies as COVID-19 continues to unfold. The panel was recorded live and is posted below:

The panel discussion included:

  1. Insights on travel agents are supporting their clients through the crisis
  2. The importance of travel insurance
  3. A candid look at the limitations of what travel agents are able to do for travelers (especially those without trip insurance)
  4. Challenges specific to rebooking or cancelling airline tickets
  5. Why travelers should not rely on credit card chargebacks to get refunds (and how this hurts travel agents)

The conversation unfolds from there. We have the video along with a comprehensive list of links that elaborates on topics addressed during the panel.

Meet the Panelists

  1. Jeni Chaffer, Travel Consultant/Owner, Journeys Travel: Jeni is a travel advisor and President of a Journey's Travel Inc., specializing in destination weddings, honeymoons and romance travel. In 2016, Jeni was awarded MAST's President's Award.
  2. Jay Ellenby, President, Safe Harbors Travel: Jay Ellenby is president and CEO of Safe Harbors Travel Group a company that manages corporate, business, and humanitarian travel in Bel Air, MD. Jay served as the chair of ASTA’s board of directors from 2016 to 2018. He recently testified to congress, appealing for
  3. Madeline Jhawar, Owner, Italy Beyond the Obvious: Italy destination specialist Madeline Jhawar is the founder and owner of Italy Beyond the Obvious. Madeline recently launched a professional development program, Travel Beyond the Obvious.
  4. Stephanie Lee (Moderator), Founder of Host Agency Reviews: Stephanie founded Host Agency Reviews in 2012. She received ASTA’s Young Professional of the Year award, Minnesota Business’ Young Entrepreneur award and Travel Agent magazine’s 30 Under 30. She's also presented at a number of marketing/travel events.

A List of Panel Resources

  1. Madeline Jhawar’s Travel Agent Chatter podcast with Host Agency Reviews: Despite specializing in Italy, Madeline still sees a bright future for her agency, and is instead focusing on the well-being of the Italy-based tour operators she partners with. In the panel, Madeline discussed the advantages of having a fee-based agency model, and diversifying her services. Check out the podcast to take a deeper dive into her thriving agency model.
  2. SBA Disaster Relief Loans: The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a link dedicated to loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. At the time of publication, every state was declared a disaster area in response to the pandemic.
  3. Jay Ellenby’s testimony to the House Committee on Small Businesses: On March 10th, Jay Ellenby testified to congress on behalf of ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) to appeal for legislative support for travel agencies.
  4. ASTA’s webinar on the CARES Act: The CARE act enabled independent contractor (IC) travel agents to apply for unemployment, even though they wouldn't other qualify. Watch ASTA's March 30th presentation on the CARE Act and how it might support your agency.
  5. ASTA membership page: To support independent travel advisors, the team at Host Agency Reviews is supplementing ASTA's IC memberships. Use the promo code HAR2020.
  6. Host Agency Reviews Newsletter: For more information on resources and events, sign up for HAR's monthly Newsletter.
  7. SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Implemented on April 3rd, 2020, SBA's PPP program is designed to provide low interest loans (1%) to incentivize small employers1 to keep their workers on payroll. Interested applicants can apply through participating lenders. Funds are limited and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. So apply now!
  8. ATTA's (Adventure Travel Trade Association):A free 6-chapter resource on financial strategies and tactics during economic uncertainty.

Further Topical Site Resources

The panel touched on many critical subjects including insurance, credit card chargebacks, communicating with travelers during crisis and much more. Below is a list of site resources that take a deeper dive into the topics addressed in the panel:

  1. Free Travel Agency Waivers: Are you offering travel insurance to your clients? Is your agency protected with waivers? Check this resource to develop waivers for your agency.
  2. Free Travel Agent Forms: HAR's free travel agent forms will help you streamline communications with your clients.
  3. A Travel Agency Crisis Management Plan: It's not too late to start one. HAR walks you through creating a travel agency crisis management plan, with tips on how to scale it for your business.
  4. 5 Reasons Not to Abandon Your Dream to Start a Travel Agency: The idea of starting a travel agency during these trying times may seem ludicrous. But here's 5 reasons now is still a good time to get your agency started.
  5. Explaining Travel Agent Commissions: Commissions were a hot topic in the panel. Here's a rundown on how they work.
  6. How to Protect Your Travel Agency During Turbulent Times: During turbulent times, it's even more important to take caution in how you communicate with clients. The article includes a few legal tips on how to handle your clients communications to keep your clients and your livelihood safe.
  7. Using a Travel Agent vs. Booking Online: Now more than ever, the value of a travel agent is apparent. Here's a resource that outlines why it's advantageous to book with a travel agent (even when there's no pandemic).

A Blast from the Past

But wait, before you go: here's the video of panelist, Jay Ellenby, going to bat for travel agencies on the Hill (on behalf of ASTA). He testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business on March 10th—which is approximately 10 years ago in pandemic time.

Watch his moving statement here:

I Hope We Meet Again!

Thanks for checking out our panel! Don't forget to check out other fabulous events and webinars that are listed on HAR's event page.

Have insights on the panel discussion? We'd love to hear from you. Comment below!


  1. <500 employees, including independent contractors and self-employed
About the Author
Mary Stein - Host Agency Reviews

Mary Stein

Mary Stein has been working as a writer and editor for Host Agency Reviews since 2016. She loves supporting travel advisors on their entrepreneurial journey and is inspired by their passion, tenacity, and creativity. Mary is also a mom, dog lover, fiction writer, hiker, and a Great British Bake Off superfan.