After 40 years of serving the Berkeley community, Berkeley’s Northside Travel faces challenges and an uncertain future amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Berkeley’s Northside Travel was founded in 1980, when there were 33 travel agencies in Berkeley. Now, it is one of only two remaining physical travel agencies in the city. The agency was able to survive a rapidly changing market for travel agencies, as well as multiple economic downturns, said Terry Regan, owner of Berkeley’s Northside Travel. However, travel bans prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the agency to close for the first time.
Berkeley’s Northside Travel continues to assist customers with inquiries and travel cancellations, Regan added, and the agency hopes to return to business as soon as travel is permitted again.
“We’ve weathered a lot of changes and storms,” Regan said. “But, what’s happening right now is different and very difficult.”
The travel agency continues to pay its employees 25% of their former salaries, allowing them to apply for unemployment benefits, according to Regan. Berkeley’s Northside Travel also applied for government aid, which Regan described as a “tough process” because the rules keep changing as the pandemic continues.
According to David Shepherd, manager of Berkeley’s Northside Travel, guidelines from travel suppliers have also been changing unpredictably, making it impossible for the agency to predict when it may be able to return to work as usual.
“The only certainty in all of this is that there is no certainty,” Shepherd said.
Even if travel becomes viable again, Shepherd said, due to the high level of COVID-19 cases in the United States, many foreign countries may remain unwilling to allow Americans to visit well into the future.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic poses major challenges for travel agencies, Regan said he feels confident that Berkeley’s Northside Travel will be able to survive the pandemic.
According to Regan, although many young people turn to the internet rather than travel agencies to plan trips, travel agents have real-life experience and extensive knowledge that allow them to help customers in ways the internet cannot.
For example, Regan said, Berkeley’s Northside Travel was able to ensure that customers who could no longer take their planned flights were able to receive full refunds for their airline tickets.
If ticket holders had canceled their tickets themselves, they would have only received vouchers. Berkeley’s Northside Travel, however, advised customers to wait until the airlines canceled their flights, at which point the agency was able to return the ticket money to customers with a 90% success rate, Shepherd said.
“Travel is constantly changing,” Regan said. “They change the rules, and it’s our job to keep track of the rules.”