There will always be travel agents’
As a child, Italian Sousa wasn’t too thrilled about her name.
“When the teacher called my name, I’d duck down,” she said.
Her mother, Marquerite O’Loughlin, called her Italian because she loved Italian culture, and worked for Little Venice for many years.
It turned out to be the perfect name for a future travel agent.
“It’s always a conversation starter,” Ms Sousa said.
She got her start in the travel industry with Penboss Associates 35 years ago. When that business changed hands, she moved over to Meyer Travel where she was head of group sales for 11 years.
In 2002, she left Meyer to form her own company, Infinity Travel, out of her home.
“Working out of my house allows me to work one-on-one with people,” she said. “They seem to like that.”
As a result, she has a dedicated client base, who are calling her even now, during the pandemic.
“People are calling and wanting to book things in December or late summer,” Ms Sousa said. “Some people will wait and see and others don’t want to wait.
“December is high season, and they don’t want to miss out on getting a flight.”
She is comfortable booking, because the airlines have been pretty flexible about making refunds, if flights have been cancelled because of Covid-19. Ms Sousa said a lot of her customer base are older people, but not all of it.
Some younger people prefer to use travel agents because they don’t like the hassle of booking travel themselves, or simply don’t have the time.
“I think there will always be travel agents that will be here providing that extra professional service,” she said.
She said when you get stuck in a travel crisis somewhere in the world, it’s always good to have a travel agent on hand, working to help you.
She remembered one situation where her own son, Peter Jr, almost got trapped overseas while trying to return home from university. “There were a lot of snow storms and he was stuck,” she said.
Standing in a long line at the airport, he called his mother back at home. Before he even reached the airline agent she had him on another flight.
“When he reached the counter, the agent said your flight has been cancelled,” Ms Sousa said. “He was able to show her I was able to get another flight for him.”
Ms Sousa said some people often don’t realise that airlines impose booking fees on tickets bought online.
Sometimes the fee is higher than what she charges. And sometimes, as a travel agent, she can get people better deals than they find on the internet.
She remembers how she once saved a client $500 on a ticket to Sydney, Australia.
And Covid-19 grounding flights and cruises isn’t the first airline emergency she has dealt with. In December 1991, she was working as a travel agent when Pan Am suddenly went bankrupt.
“At the time it was one of the preferred airlines,” she said. “Then I got a call to say they had filed bankruptcy. People were stuck all over the world. The Pan Am flights just stopped.
“It was pretty devastating. People were on their own and didn’t know how to respond because they didn’t use a travel agent.”
However, she admitted that nothing she knew of compared to the severity of what Covid-19 had done to the travel industry.
“It’s worldwide,” she said. “This is something I don’t think anyone in any industry expected. People have to pay attention and look beyond what it is and reflect on what this thing will bring.
“It will come with a lot of unemployment. Cruise ship companies and airlines will probably merge more.”
She has led group tours all over the world.
“When I travel, I develop relationships with my clients,” she said. “I have been taking tours to New Zealand, all parts of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, Kenya, Tanzania. I have done Asia, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai.”
One of her favourite destinations is Jerusalem, Israel.
“The city was interesting because that is where the city of David was, going back to the steps of Jesus Christ,” she said. “It was just beautiful. I love the people and the culture.
“I felt very safe there. A lot of people said ‘oh my goodness, Israel is a dangerous place to go’, but the security out there was amazing.”
Ms Sousa said the travel industry will continue after Covid-19, but it may not look the same as it does now.
“Nothing remains the same,” she said. “The industry will change and there will probably be people who may not be able to wait it out and move forward. I am not one to give up.”
She believes these times are an opportunity to reflect and be more creative.
Right now, she is staying busy and taking care of her mother.
“Outside of travel, I am really big on health,” she said. “I run quite a bit. I do five miles here and there. I am keeping my fitness level up.”
In addition to Infinity Travel, she also runs a business selling natural food supplements.
“I give health talks and sell health products,” she said.
She is married to Peter Sousa, Bermuda’s pension commissioner and chairman of the Bermuda College.
They have two grown sons, Peter Jr and Justin, and two grandsons.
• For more information, see 295-7878 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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