There are only so many open dates on the travel industry meeting calendar, especially this time of year. So while travel agents and company officials gathered for the Travel Leaders national conference in New Orleans, history was being made with the election of travel industry billionaire Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Both agents and Travel Leaders officials were abuzz with the impact of the historic Election Day. And the mood around the conference was very similar to the range of emotions seen around the country — excitement from some, surprise from plenty and fear from many.
"We have clarity now and with clarity comes confidence. For the financial markets, a decline was predicted but it’s stable now," said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network & Leisure Group. "There was so much anticipation [for this election] regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on."
"I’m thrilled. I just felt it was time for a change," said Lynn Paulus, a Travel Leaders franchisee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, one of the states that stunned pollsters by voting for Trump. "You always hear that slogan, 'Time for a change,' but this time it really was. Here is a businessman and a billionaire who used his own money, his time, his family and his resources for us. He didn’t need the Hollywood elite. I think the middle to upper middle class needs this. I think it will help the travel industry because of job creation. My hope is that people going on three to four-day vacations will start to upgrade to seven-day vacations."
Other agents on hand were surprised, such as Travel Leaders franchisee Russell Reid from Grand Ledge, Michigan, another state that helped propel Trump to victory.
"I was surprised. I voted for him but I didn’t think he’d win," Reid said. "I thought it was time for a change."
Reid said he understands Trump may upset the travel apple cart with his stances on issues such as reversing President Obama's easing of sanctions against Cuba, but that this vote may in part speak to the larger public's view on the U.S. doing business in Cuba.
"Cuba is a good destination, however, what has it done to warrant the U.S. changing our policies?" he said. "In other words, what has Cuba done in terms of human rights for example. It’s still a Communist country. So I'm just not sure it was the right time for Obama’s actions relating to Cuba."
Other Travel Leaders franchisees were not so diplomatic in expressing a lot of negativity toward the President-Elect.
"I’m scared to death. We just elected someone who’s never done the job before in any way, has no government experience," said Ed Schmidt of Bozeman, Montana. "But I voted for him. It’s just a bed of snakes with Bill and Hillary. Our business was slow for the last six weeks. People were expecting Armageddon and they’re holding on to their money. I was doing a million dollars a month when Bill Clinton was president. But I’m hopeful [for the future.]"
A lot of travel agents were resistant to going on the record in opposing Trump, such as one female agent from Washington State. Their business has been strong with the Democrats in charge, so a dramatic political change was not necessary.
"I’m horrified. Why? Because she was more qualified and she’s not crazy," the agent said. "I worry about world reaction, but the Dow was down (Tuesday night) and now it’s stabilized. It’s too unreliable to foresee what will happen. I was having a good year and I even have bookings now for 2018. The [business] forecast in my case looks good."
Lovell voiced what many agreed on at the national conference: no matter your politics, it's time for politicians to put aside their party affiliations and make important decisions.
"What the election holds for the country is anyone’s guess. For travel, there’s a lot of pent-up demand. Now people can get going again and get back to their lives," said Lovell, who identified himself as a Republican. "From a political standpoint, I’m happy. But we need to get beyond partisan politics for the country to move forward."
Another overwhelming message from New Orleans? Give Trump time to do the job before we judge him.
"Give the guy a chance," Paulus said.