31 Percent of Travel Advisors Say Hurricanes Harvey, Irma Hurt Business

Palm trees being blown over by a hurricane
Hurricane winds can blow in negative impacts on businesses, including travel agencies in the impacted areas. // Photo by LTopDesign/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Approximately 31 percent of travel agents who took a TravelAgentCentral.com survey earlier this month believe their business has been negatively impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, either the storm itself or the booking aftermath. 

Many of those, not surprisingly, were in storm zone areas of Florida and Texas

The survey, with 73 travel advisors and agency owners responding, was completed on September 16, 2017, which was prior to the landfall of Hurricane Maria.  

Here’s a look at the results of three survey questions focused on potential business impact.  

2018 Hurricane Season Cruise Impact

The survey asked: “Do you believe recent hurricane coverage impacting Texas, Florida or the Caribbean will make it harder for you to sell "2018 hurricane season" cruises?” 

  • Yes:  35 percent 
  • No: 35 percent 
  • Not Sure: 30 percent 

Mari Fernandez, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Miami, FL, whose agency business was negatively impacted the past few weeks, is among those who don't believe it will be harder to sell next year’s hurricane-season cruises.

However, John Gawne, an independent agent with Cruises Inc., Virginia Beach, VA, and Tina Williams, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Palm Bay, FL, aren't sure as yet. 

Winter Season 2017-2018 Cruise Impact 

The survey also asked: “Do you think recent hurricane news coverage will negatively impact your ability to sell 2017-2018 winter Caribbean cruises ?”  

  • No: 42 percent
  • Yes: 30 percent
  • Not Sure: 28 percent 

Ruth Turpin, a Virtuoso agent, Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, TX, answered “yes” to a negative impact on this winter’s Caribbean cruise season sales and also to next year’s hurricane season cruise sales. Debbie Smith, franchise owner of a Cruise Planners agency in Merritt Island, FL, did the same.  

Overall Business Impact

And looking at overall potential, the survey asked: “Did Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma impact your agency’s business?” 

  • Not Sure or Too Early to Tell: 40 percent
  • No, neither hurricane has impacted my business: 29 percent 
  • Yes, Hurricane Irma has negatively impacted my business: 23 percent
  • Yes, Hurricane Harvey has negatively impacted my business: 8 percent 

Some agents in our survey including Chris Caulfield, a CruiseOne franchise owner, Croton on Hudson, NY, said neither hurricane impacted their business. 

Scott Kertes, Vacations by Design @ Hartford Holidays, an Ensemble member agency, Garden City, NY, said it was a bit too early to tell whether the storms would result in any negative impact on his business overall. “I have lots of winter business on the books," Kertes said, “so we shall see in the coming weeks or months how it is or is not impacted." 

Not surprisingly, though, agents within hurricane zones missed calls from clients or potential customers due to power outages and Wi-Fi/Internet outages. One agent said she was unable to get online to book new clients.

Many in Texas such as Jennifer Robbins, a Cruise Planners agent from Spring, TX, and many in Florida acknowledge they have been negatively impacted.

Lainey Melnick, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Austin, TX, said both hurricanes have negatively impacted her business -- Harvey because of her clients' locale and Irma for its impact on cruise suppliers for a time in Florida.  

“Many of my clients are in Texas and many on the coast,” Melnick said. “People who are trying to recover from a disaster are not thinking about their vacations.”

“People have used their extra spending money on hurricane supplies … and repairs and insurance deductibles,” says Carol Furst Matulonis, a Cruise Planners franchise owner, Fort Pierce, FL, who grew up in Houston, went to college in Texas and now lives in Florida, so she understands the post-storm business landscape.   

“Both hurricanes have very negatively impacted my business,” says Matulonis. “People are not buying travel in this mindset.” 

Based in Houston, Beth Leonardt of Vacations by Beth, an independent agent of Avoya Travel, said Hurricane Irma is negatively impacting her business because of damage to the islands and because of her agency’s locale. 

Deborah Conrad, a Cruise Planners (CP) franchise owner, Stafford, TX, said: “With the majority of the city having lost homes, cars, personal belongings and, in most cases, having to pay out of pocket for repairs, no one is considering travel.”

Unable to attend to her business for a week given the need to handle storm-related family and home tasks was Julie Syverson, a Cruise Planners franchise owner, Rockledge, FL. “I had several inquiries that I did not receive during the storm due to power and lack of service, so potential customers [were] lost,” Syverson said. 

But beyond cruise selling, there has been other fallout too -- a loss of resort sales or destination weddings planned for areas impacted by storm damage. 

“I lost $24,000 in bookings for Thanksgiving week at Beaches Turks & Caicos due to it having to close until December 14 to recover from Hurricane Irma," said Gawne.

"It's made people reconsider booking 2018 Caribbean cruises and resorts,” believes Sheri Mruz, an independent agent affiliated with the Avoya Travel Network in Ocala, FL. 

While retailer Lisa Mattern of Sterling Heights, MI, didn’t see negative business impact, she does believe the storms have had one other effect: "Many [clients] are realizing the benefit of travel protection and an agent.”

As we covered in our initial story on this survey, most of the agents taking the poll felt the cruise lines did a good or reasonable job with a few hiccups in handling changes due to the hurricanes. In that survey only a small percentage of agents were unhappy with the cruise lines' response. 

But Hurricane Maria has brought more cancellations and changes. Thinking creatively, Leah Bergner of Coastline Travel Advisors, a Virtuoso partner agency in Garden Grove, CA, suggests that it would be a good idea for cruise lines offering Caribbean hurricane-season sailings to be proactive with advance explanations to guests. 

"Either clients [would] have to sign off on the warning and book at their own risk,” she suggests, or the lines could put a policy – for itinerary changes/shifts/cancellations – in place in advance “so guests know that if a hurricane impacts the cruise, ‘this’ is how the cruise line will reply and what they will offer."

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