While the U.S. government shutdown has not yet caused major headaches for leisure travel advisors and their clients, there are trepidations about what could happen if the situation drags on much longer.
“For our leisure travelers, the government shutdown is a hot topic,” said Beth Washington of McCabe World Travel in MacLean, Va. “A lot of people are asking about it, particularly the impact on airports. They’ve heard about TSA employees calling in sick. So we’re counseling everyone to get to the airport early.”
A few major airports have been closing some security lanes because of a shortage of TSA workers to staff them.
Another top area of concern are the national parks, more of which are closing after struggling to stay open with limited services. Last week saw the closing of two popular California attractions, Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs and Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco.
“The national park closures are definitely affecting travelers — people planning trips to Joshua Tree have had to cancel plans to go there,” Washington said. “We haven’t had people canceling entire trips, but they are changing itineraries.”
Clients planning trips to the national parks this spring are starting to voice concerns, she added.
“This time of year is not a big one for national parks, but spring and summer will be, especially spring break,” Washington said. “We’re certainly hoping the shutdown won’t last long enough to impact those trips.”
Steve Lincoln, owner of Lincoln Travel in Bridgewater, Va., is also dealing with concerns from clients, including some asking if they can cancel reservations, if needed.
“People are citing news reports that claim airplanes are not being properly inspected by the TSA,” he said. “They’re also worried that passenger screening is not as thorough as it should be since, according to the media, not enough TSA agents are reporting for work.”
While his business has not yet been affected, Lincoln thinks it could be if the shutdown lingers.
“People will not travel if their safety is in question—whether perceived or factual,” he said.
Stacey Luks, owner of Flourish Travel in Richmond, Va., is also concerned and is monitoring the situation through updates from the American Society of Travel Advisors, which has issued a series of talking points to members about how the shutdown is affecting travel-related services. She is keeping clients updated through social media and e-mails to her clients.
“My sense is that at the moment people are going ahead with plans they have in place, with a view of allowing extra time at the airport,” she said. “But if the political stalemate continues with no resolution in sight, it could start to disrupt travel planning into the spring.”
For some advisors, the shutdown so far has primarily meant advising clients about possible airport delays and attraction closures.
While none of her clients have voiced concerns about the shutdown, Janet Blackwell, owner of Tidewater Cruise and Travel in Bel Air, Md., is nevertheless taking a pro-active stance.
“I’m telling everyone to keep an ear to the news and allow extra time to get through airport security, just in case,” she said. “I also advise being extra nice to the TSA staff at this stressful time—something I plan to do myself.”
Blackwell is also taking extra care to ensure a good experience for travelers headed to domestic destinations where attraction closures could be a factor.
“I have clients headed to Oahu and I’ve advised them to check with the hotel concierge regarding the federally operated places they may want to visit there,” she said. “I also did some research for them about Pearl Harbor and found that while it’s open, you can’t go out to the Arizona Memorial. It’s important to let clients know what to expect.”
Business as Usual
For some advisors, particularly those who focus on international travel, the shutdown is causing little or no worry.
Among them is Lisa Costa of Timeless Travel in Freehold, N.J., who said none of her clients, most of whom cruise or visit destination in the Caribbean and Europe, have voiced any concerns over the shutdown. Neither has she experienced any airport inconvenience during the last few days.
“The airports appear to be operating normally,” she said. “I literally breezed through TSA at JFK in less than ten minutes.”
Similarly, Deborah Miller, owner of Edge of Wonder Travels Unlimited in San Francisco, said she anticipates little impact on her business, most of which involves overseas travel.
“I do have some clients planning travel to national parks later this year, but I doubt the government shutdown would carry that late into the summer,” she said.