How One Travel Agency Dealt with COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

As the travel industry was dealing with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak earlier this month, one agency used the crisis as an opportunity to adapt its business model by offering customers opportunity to be a tourist “in their own backyard”.

The agency, Pack Up + Go is a travel company with a unique business plan. They provide surprise vacation itineraries, designed to simultaneously remove the stress associated with planning a trip, while providing a sense of spontaneity for their clients. And like many agencies currently operating, they’ve had to deal with the fallout from the outbreak.

“Due to the disruption from the Coronavirus, and the media frenzy surrounding that, we mostly have our travelers reaching out and we’re doing our due diligence to see if their destinations declare a state of emergency, or what happens if airlines stop service,” said Lillian Rafson, Founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go.

As a surprise travel agency, Pack Up + Go has had to monitor the progress of the Coronavirus across its many destination offerings on behalf of its clients. “That’s been a big challenge for us, we are following the lead of the government officials [and] agency officials… We have a small team, so we’re just trying to communicate as thoughtfully, thoroughly and personally as we can with our travelers to make sure that their safety is always prioritized.”

And with the implementation of new travel restrictions, low demand for travel across the board, and a profound sense of uncertainty as to when things will get back to normal, Pack Up + Go has opted to offer a new service for those who may be wary of traveling across the country; ‘Staycations’.

Though the program was introduced before the recent bout of lockdown measures and social distancing initiatives, it serves as an excellent example of a business adapting its strategy to cater to a changing market.

“So as a team, our mission is always to promote exploration and spontaneity, and we were thinking ‘how can we continue to promote that, even when it feels a little bit scary to dive into the unknown and travel to a new place? How can we continue to encourage open-mindedness and that spirit of adventure, with a little bit more of a safety net?’”

“So that’s how we decided to launch ‘Staycations’, and we think it’s a great opportunity to encourage travelers to be a tourist in their own cities.”

Pack Up + Go arranges entire surprise itineraries by letting clients decide how they’d like to travel (road trip, by plane, etc.), how many people are going on the trip (solo, couple, family, etc.), their budget for the trip, and then having them fill a pre-trip survey, which asks about their previous travel history, personal interests, and anything else the agency will need to know to make the trip an unforgettable experience. The more information they provide on the pre-trip survey, the better agents can cater this trip to match their expectations.

But while ordinary Pack Up + Go trips could have clients travel across the country to discover new places to explore and enjoy, the ‘Staycation’ program is designed to let people discover the hidden gems in cities nearby that people don’t often take the time to appreciate.

“We are here always promoting being a tourist around the U.S., discovering a new city you might not have thought to visit, but what about the places that are right in your backyard, that you never take the time to visit?” said Rafson.

“I used to live in New York, and I would never go to the MET or Guggenheim, or any of the museums, and it’s really because they’re too easy, too accessible. So really carving out the time and space to be a tourist at home is what we’re after.”

The company initially marketed the new program to former Pack Up + Go travelers, who expressed interest in the new idea and applauded the company for adapting during such a trying time for the industry. “We’ve got a lot of great feedback. A lot of people said ‘oh this is so much easier for us, because I’ve got kids, and it’s hard to arrange childcare for a whole weekend, but I can make one night happen’… The logistics are so much easier, and it’s also a lower price point.”

As part of its ‘Staycation’ package, Pack Up + Go is offering both one-night and two-night ‘Staycations’, so this will include the one or two nights in their accommodations, valet parking, customized itineraries based on the traveler’s interests, as well as one guaranteed surprise activity or attraction.

“Right now we are offering our ‘Staycations’ in about 80 cities around the country… and we’re always going to be adding more cities as we go,” said Rafson.

“It’s a great opportunity to be a tourist in your own city, and give yourself a change of scenery, a change of pace, without traveling too far.”

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