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Agent Interview: Mara Hargarther – Tips for other Travel Professionals during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Perspective and Lessons Learned through the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Travel Professional


An Interview by Andy Ogg, CTIE, Co-Owner – Travel Professional News


First off, thank you very much for the time today and joining our fantastic Travel Professional NEWS readers!


Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your Agency with our readers? Where are you located? How did you become a Travel Professional?


Located in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. I left Wall Street in 1989 to have my family and started with Cruises Inc. in 1994. Later in 2010 I switched over to become a CruiseOne Franchisee. Then three years ago re-branded as Dream Vacations. My sister Claudia Thaler is a co-owner of the franchise. I have several associates including my son Corey and sister Abby Behr.


How long have you been in the travel industry? How long have you been running your Agency? Do you work with a Host Agency? If so, which Host Agency?


This is the anniversary of my 26th year in the business. See above.


2020 started off with a bang with WAVE season followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. What a year it has been already! Can you share a bit about how the recent situation has affected your business?


When I left to escort a group on March 6th, 2020, business was booming and we were up for the year. When I returned on March 15th, we were receiving multiple cancellations daily.


With cancellations (hopefully) behind you, how are you spending your time during this time of Travel Bans and “stay at home” warnings?


I am finally able to work on my to-do list. There are many items on this list and it feels really good to be able to cross things off of it. I am doing lots of hand-holding and rearranging vacation plans for our clients.


As an experienced Travel Professional, do you have any advice or tips for other Travel Professionals during this challenging time?


Seasoned agents should spend time engaging their clients in conversation. How are they feeling? Are they healthy? It can be generic and not travel-related. It could end with, “when this is all over and safe to travel, where to next?”


For new agents, I recommend taking every certification and specialist program there is. This will be of great value once this turns around.


We know that in this Industry, we are stronger together and it has been shown time and time again through the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you share a few suppliers / partners that have truly helped you and your clients in this challenging time?


I did have clients on the Diamond Princess in Asia and my Princess rep Monika Pasquerello was very helpful. It has been nice having our reps check in with us to see if we were okay. We recently received a customized video from our Celebrity Sales Executives and that really was very special.


Through these times, we all learn a lot about ourselves and our businesses, can you share a few things that you’ve learned through this current pandemic either personally, professionally or both?


I thought 9/11 was the worst event of my lifetime and that the fact that we survived it professionally meant we could survive anything. My biggest fear has always been another terrorist attack. Never did I imagine that a virus could send our business, our economy, our way of life as we know it, into such a tailspin. I did have a feeling for the last six months or so that there was going to be a downturn. We had our best year ever last year, with sales over $6 million. This year we have adjusted our expectations and are trying to maintain our existing client base and talk our clients through each travel decision. It is all very much bigger than us and our business. It is all about safety, the health of our clients, and how we adapt to the new normal. I keep finding myself saying to my clients that we will know more in two weeks than we know now. This continues to be true thus far. All of our clients that are cancelling their travel plans, or are having their plans cancelled for them, continue to tell us they will be back. The pent-up demand will be significant when it is safe to travel again.


Before we conclude, I personally want to thank you for your time and information shared today. We appreciate your involvement in our publication!