NORTHAMPTON — The DRI-Voyage, as travel agent Martha S. Borawski describes it, is the travel option for people who normally like a cruise but are not getting on a plane — much less a cruise ship — anytime in the foreseeable future due to the risk of coronavirus.
“It’s a three-night hotel stay package you can drive to in your own car and I’ve got great deals lined up with hotels and resorts in the northeast,” says Borawski, president of Pioneer Valley Travel in Northampton, of the mini-vacation concept she originated in the midst of the pandemic.
She’s been working at the family-owned business for 50 years.
The DRI-Voyage is one option for travelers concerned about venturing out amid the pandemic, focused on destinations within two- to three-hour drives from Western Massachusetts. So, too, are deals she’s worked out with RV rental companies for driving tours in the United States and, once travel restrictions are lifted, in Europe.
“I have a great rate for a river cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers for May of 2021. We are encouraging people to travel to Alaska in 2021 which I truly believe will be a hot destination and there are so many wonderful deals out there,” Borawski adds.
She says she’s also talking with groups about trips to Portugal and customers are inquiring about Alaska, saying they want something exotic without leaving the United States.
Borawski adds that customers keep telling her they have postponed, not canceled their trips into 2021. “I think it is going to come back gangbusters,” she predicts of the travel business.
But is anyone taking the deals?
The trade group the U.S. Travel Association said recently that travel spending is running about 45% below last year’s numbers. And the airline industry is pressing Congress hard for another bailout to avoid layoffs.
“What’s going on with the industry is not very good,” Borawski acknowledges.
She’s traveled herself in recent weeks, taking one of those three-day dry-cruises to an inn in Vermont, where it was a relief to check out a bustling little village and see some new scenery for change.
“People want to get away,” she says, “but they want to do it safely. Showing people that proper precautions are being taken will build confidence.”
There are lots of things changing in the travel industry, including at Borawski’s business.
In response, she’s now partnered with two other travel industry veterans. Barbara Burati, whose father started Carroll Travel in Springfield many years ago before selling it, has brought her agency, Burati Travel, with offices in Avon, Connecticut, and East Longmeadow, into the fold.
Debbie Wilcox, of Cruise and Travel, in Turners Falls, who has been in the travel business for more than 36 years, is also part of the partnership.
The arrangement allows the three travel agencies to combine back-office operations like computer systems, while also allowing all three businesses to keep their individual identities, Borawski explains.
“Hopefully this will be a really good fit,” Borawski says. “We all feel the same way about travel and a passion for travel.”
As time passes, she adds, if any of the partners decide to retire, then they can transfer clients to the other partners.
COVID-19 and its disruptions have also pointed out the utility in having a travel agent, Borawski adds. People who booked online either directly or through third-party websites had trouble getting refunds this spring when coronavirus restrictions canceled trips. Some of those would-be travelers came to the travel agents in search of help.
“(When you book online), there is nobody you can talk to,” Borawski says. “We’re here. We’re local.”
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