By Kristy Tolley
Booking a trip to Disney became the catalyst that launched Shannon Ondecker’s career as a travel agent. With more than 10 years as a AAA Travel Agent under her belt, Ondecker provides insight and inspiration in challenging times.
How did you become a travel agent?
I actually went to school for psychology and child development. Becoming a travel agent happened by chance. In 2008 I booked a trip to Disney and planned the trip alongside my AAA Travel Agent. Something just clicked — it was my “Aha!” moment. I loved the planning! I attended travel school after that and began working with AAA shortly after. Now I’m at the stage in my career where my clients are more like family to me because I’ve been working with them so long.
What have the months since the COVID-19 outbreak been like for you?
Oh my gosh – pandemonium! The first few months we were in a whirlwind. I helped take care of clients who had bookings and travel – assisting them with refunds and insurance questions. Now we’re able to take a step back a bit. We’re able to educate people on how companies have handled COVID-19. For example, some companies are offering refunds, other companies aren’t – they’re offering credits. Being able to present that up front is so helpful. Assisting our clients with those types of things can really give them peace of mind.
Have you taken any road trips or traveled since then?
We took a weeklong vacation to Bald Head Island. It was our first time there. You park and get on a ferry to get on the island, so it was kind of new for us with other people on the ferry. They were able to social distance us well, though. Of course, it’s easy to social distance at the beach. We could spread out. We took our golf cart everywhere, too. We’ve also booked a Disney trip for January 2021. It’s so great to have something to count down for on the calendar! It’s not a big international trip, but we’re really excited to plan and look into the future. That’s what now is about! I’m hopeful for 2021. I see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
What are bookings like now?
Clients are slowly starting to call in or email me and looking into the future. It’s slow, but they’re coming! People are interested in traveling again. I’m booking a little bit of everything – cruises (Viking River and Ocean Cruise, Italy tours, etc. The most fun tour I booked was for a client of mine who is doing two tours with two different tour companies, Globus and Tauck, in May. They’re doing a back-to-back trip and weaving in custom independent travel at the end. Custom trips are what I’m used to, so I’m excited to be planning them again! All the tour companies are limiting their tour sizes and implementing enhanced safety protocols, so travelers should feel confident in booking a tour.
What’s your advice for people who are apprehensive to travel again?
If anything, COVID-19 has taught us that anything can happen. But it’s not a reason to stop dreaming of the places and cultures we want to see or what’s on our bucket list. It seemed like everything changed overnight in March. Nothing’s certain, but don’t stop dreaming and planning!
Contact your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 or contact Shannon at (704) 816-1502.
(Traveler Holiday 2020)