Travel Concerns

Tim McLLwain, President of Lodestar Travel and McLLwains Charter & Tours of Johnstown stands next to one of his company’s tour buses on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Trips local and global are being postponed or rescheduled during to the coronavirus pandemic, but Cynthia Watters – owner of Epic Journeys travel agency in Johnstown – said she still has hope the situation will turn around soon.

"We're all going to get through it," Watters said Wednesday. "We're all feeling the pain of it now, but there's light at the end of the tunnel."

As concerns about COVID-19 mount, she said her customers' continued support has been welcome.

Local busing companies Lodestar Tours and McIlwain Charters and Tours are feeling the strain as well but are thankful for their customers.

"The busiest two months of the year are April and May," Timothy McIlwain, president of both companies, said.

McIlwain also services seven area school districts and operates about 200 buses through McIlwain School Bus Lines, but at the moment none of them are on the roads.

Not only is the company missing out on daily bus runs, McIlwain said all the athletic and schools trips are canceled as well – which has led to all of the bus drivers being laid off.

"It's the worst time," McIlwain said.

Watters said she's had to lay off three employees as well.

Gloria Alt, tour manager at Lodestar, said the company is taking everything day by day and Watters echoed the sentiment.

Mary Trofino, owner of Trofino Tri-Star Travel Inc. in Johnstown, said she is staying positive and passing that message on to her clients.

"We have to keep positive thoughts so our clients can keep positive thoughts," Trofino said.

Despite cancellations and rescheduling for trips, customers are continuing to book for later in the year, according to the companies.

Once the dust settles with the pandemic, Watters said she thinks her phone will begin "ringing off the hook" because clients will want to start scheduling trips again.

Lodestar and McIlwain Charters had several tours set for March and April – such as trips to Washington, D.C., for the cherry blossoms – that had to be canceled because of the spread of the virus.

Epic Journeys had an upcoming trip to Holland that was called off. But Watters said it was rescheduled for next year at the same time.

Lodestar is set to take a bus to Savannah, Georgia, in May. Alt said the company is planning to go, but will continue to monitor the pandemic and will update customers if the situation changes.

Trofino and the others said they've seen many more clients reschedule rather than outright cancel, which bolsters their spirits.

"The name of the game is to reassure clients," Trofino said.

She added that she likes to make sure her customers know she has their backs.

Alt said travel professionals are trying to get people to understand that the industry is a major employer and needs support now more than ever.

That extends past the travel companies, Alt explained, to venues that have postponed shows and tourist attractions.

"Everybody in the travel business is really trying to make this work," Alt said.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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