Researching this article was challenging. I felt like I was trying to discuss the finer points of aviation with a pilot while they were busy guiding their aircraft through a tornado. The travel agents I spoke with weren’t flying a plane, but they were very focused on serving a surge of new clients. These days, that means carefully navigating a maze of vaccination requirements, cancelled flights, open and closed countries, and ever-changing rules for COVID testing.
One planner I contacted was out of town at a family wedding, but using every spare minute to re-book anxious travelers. Another was in her La Jolla office meeting with clients on a holiday weekend. None of the agents, however, were complaining. Having been knocked down by online booking services in the 1990s and walloped by the pandemic in early 2020, they’re just happy to be back at work sharing their knowledge and expertise.
Scott Dunn, Solana Beach
I caught up with John Spence, President of Scott Dunn USA, at Heathrow on his way to Greece. “We’re building back,” he said via email, referring to his popular agency in Solana Beach. Later, when I spoke with Meg Shepro, one of Scott Dunn’s senior travel consultants, she explained that the agency also has offices in London and Singapore, so clients have 24/7 access to team members.
The Scott Dunn staff specializes in a variety of geographical areas ranging from luxury ski chalets in Europe to deluxe African safaris. Shepro is on the safari team and planned an upcoming trip to Kenya for Del Mar clients Deb and Les Cross.
“We have traveled with Scott Dunn three times, twice to Africa and once to Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia,” Deb told me. “They work closely with you to make sure you have special experiences. They are not a one-size-fits-all company. Everyone we have worked with has been fantastic.” scottdunn.com
Cadence Travel, La Jolla
Located in the heart of La Jolla, Cadence Travel is home base for a worldwide network of independent travel advisors. One of the best of these is Steve Kuriga, who I was lucky to catch up with as he was changing planes in Atlanta.
I wasted no time questioning something I’d read. “Yes, I’m an accredited space agent for Virgin Galactic,” he confirmed, “but now I’m really focused on helping earth-bound clients have great trips.”
Kuriga recently saved one couple’s Middle East journey by arranging for COVID testing at their hotels in Dubai, Luxor, and Istanbul. Other clients were planning to enjoy a safari in Kenya and then head to London for seven plays in seven days. However, the UK changed their rules and arrivals from Kenya were prohibited, so he managed to get them home on Qatar Airways and secure a full refund for their British Airways ticket. Kuriga has also gotten good at “lift and shift” strategies when countries close or COVID rates rise. Because he’s a pro, he can take an entire itinerary and move it to a better time in the future. Also, because Cadence is in the Virtuoso network, he can offer nice perks at luxury hotels. stevekurigatravel.com
Chayet Travel Network, La Jolla
Eva Chayet won my heart many years ago when, soon before my departure for Fiji, I discovered I needed to renew my passport. She directed me to a little-known government office in San Diego and — voilà! — 36-hours later I had everything I needed.
These days, Chayet is busy planning trips to exotic destinations for some new and many repeat clients. She stays up to date on changes at the destinations through a network of contacts she’s developed over 37 years in the business.
One of these recently came to the rescue in Tanzania when clients, who were tested for COVID at their lodge, found out after boarding a plane that one of them appeared to have tested positive. They disembarked and Chayet’s contact arranged for a second test, which, happily, was negative. Soon the grateful group was on their way to Zambia and beautiful Victoria Falls.
Two or three times a year Chayet personally takes small groups on trips that include opportunities to help local communities. In India, they buy clothes in local markets and deliver them to women’s shelters. In Africa, they deliver school supplies. The next departure, for Tanzania, is October 8. chayettravel.com
Is travel more difficult during a pandemic? Yes, but it isn’t impossible, and with advisors like Shepro, Kuriga, and Chayet on your side, it can still be safe and fun.
Travel advice from the Center for Disease Control cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
A guide to COVID protocols at Lindbergh Field, San Diego. san.org/GOSAFELY
Travel Guard Insurance travelguard.com
Allianz Travel Insurance allianztravelinsurance.com
World Health Organization who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Country-specific information from the U. S. State Department travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html
TSA COVID info tsa.gov/coronavirus
Virtuoso is a global network of agencies specializing in luxury and experiential travel. Virtuoso.com