After 40 years of serving the Berkeley community, Northside Travel Berkeley is facing challenges and an uncertain future amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Northside Travel Berkeley was founded in 1980 when there were 33 travel agencies in Berkeley. Today, it is one of only two physical travel agencies in the city. The agency has been able to survive a rapidly changing market for travel agencies, as well as multiple economic downturns, said Terry Regan, owner of Northside Travel in Berkeley. However, travel bans caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the agency being closed for the first time. Northside Travel in Berkeley continues to help customers respond to travel inquiries and cancellations, added Regan, and the agency hopes to resume operations as soon as travel is re-authorized. “We have weathered many changes and storms,” said Regan. “But what’s going on right now is different and very difficult.” The travel agency continues to pay its employees 25% of their former wages, which allows them to claim unemployment benefits, according to Regan. Northside Travel in Berkeley also requested government assistance, which Regan described as a “difficult process” because the rules are constantly changing as the pandemic continues. According to David Shepherd, director of Northside Travel in Berkeley, the directives of travel providers have also changed unpredictably, making it impossible for the agency to predict when it will be able to return to work as usual. “The only certainty in all of this is that there is no certainty,” said Shepherd. Even if travel becomes viable again, said Shepherd, due to the high level of COVID-19 cases in the United States, many foreign countries may not want to allow Americans to travel to the future. Although the COVID-19 pandemic poses major challenges for travel agencies, Regan said he is confident that Northside Travel from Berkeley will be able to survive the pandemic. Regan says although many young people turn to the Internet rather than travel agencies to plan their trips, travel agents have real experience and depth of knowledge that can help customers like the Internet cannot . For example, said Regan, Northside Travel in Berkeley was able to guarantee that customers who could no longer take the scheduled flights could receive full refunds for their airline tickets. If the ticket holders had canceled their tickets themselves, they would only have received vouchers. Berkeley Northside Travel, however, advised customers to wait for airlines to cancel their flights, by which time the agency was able to return the ticket money to customers with a 90% success rate, said Shepherd. “Travel is constantly changing,” said Regan. “They’re changing the rules, and it’s our job to keep track of the rules.” Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.
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