by John Hale
2020 started with the promise of becoming a record-breaking year in Corporate Travel’s (CTS) 55-year history. The year launched with an inaugural sailing of the now highly acclaimed Good News Cruise® in January which set the pace. CTS, by every key metric, was poised for an exciting year in executing on our mission! Our team had invested three years of planning and incredibly hard work with the highest of hopes for 2020!
The CTS team had planned a record number of amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, large-scale events: a sophisticated Beethoven choral and orchestral music Festival at the Musikverein in Vienna, more than 1,000 travelers booked for the Oberammergau Passion Play, a grand Poland music festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s birth, our largest student event at Mackinac’s Grand Hotel, and 7 full ship music charters in collaboration with our valued partners at Star Vista Live. And this doesn’t even consider our collaboration on new and exciting endeavors with our long-time partners Steve Ray and Footprints of God, Teresa Tomeo and T’s Italy, Dr. Liz Lev and Master’s Gallery, Legatus, Ave Maria Radio, and the Vatican Patrons of the Arts. Hundreds of families and couples had also planned extraordinary dream vacations through our retail agency, Exceptional Journeys. Whew! All told, the CTS team developed, negotiated, marketed, and enrolled more than 30,000 travelers for our 2020 year as of January 2020! Little did we know that our anticipation of a historic year would be altered by a very different and unexpected historic event…
ENTER THE PANDEMIC
March ushered in a brewing, monumental storm. Borders were closed, international travel was cancelled, and “no sail” cruise orders were issued. CTS events and tours were cancelling faster than the team could even process them. Only days into the crisis, even many thousands of domestic student travel plans were being cancelled. In the midst of the uncertainty, everyone’s thoughts and concerns were consumed for the health of their loved ones.
Utter chaos, panic and fear unleashed across the globe and the CTS team was immediately thrust into an incomprehensible set of fire-fighting tasks. With less than a third of the team, CTS was forced to unwind years’ worth of work in just a few short weeks. Emergency all-nighters ensued to expatriate groups from Europe and the middle East. A tsunami of calls deluged our team from clients rightfully demanding answers on the ongoing continuing uncertainty. Resolving tours was complicated by a growing and widespread set of issues that ranged from emergency overseas legislation regarding deposits, vendor closures, and millions of dollars of obligations associated with forward Euro contracts. The deposits had been invested in every imaginable itinerary inclusion from restaurants and hotels to nearly bankrupt airlines to closed music venues. Weeks passed with no communication from these vendors other than “we are unable to return your deposit.”
There is no fair way to fully characterize the trauma or the degree of work on our shoulders. And there is no way to soften the anguish of those who have seen loved ones fall to this menacing virus. And yet, throughout and despite the hardship and loss, we work still! And we do so in hopeful expectation!
THE BRIGHTEST LIGHTS
There are too many examples of gratitude and graces to site in a book, let alone a blog. The brightest lights have been our team and our clients. CTS has the greatest, all-in, supportive team that any company has known! Not only did our team patiently bear the brunt of this hit, but they have done so with aplomb and grace every single day for 10 months. They have our deepest love and admiration.
Our amazing clients, who understood the terrible and unprecedented circumstances, have supported us in every imaginable way. There is simply no way to thank those we serve who called, texted, prayed, and ultimately trusted us to do the very best we could under unimaginable circumstances.
Among the many highlights is a simple but profound early evening text from a friend of CTS during the height of the chaos and peak of panic when outcomes weren’t as certain as today. It read “you have friends you didn’t know that you had.” This friend offered to provide whatever resources he could to help carry the company through that time. A smart and accomplished businessman himself, he intuitively knew what extraordinary trials we must be enduring and wanted us to know that our mission and our impact on the community was too great to let a pandemic threaten it. It was certainly an affirmation and consolation of the impact that our team’s work has made. Thankfully, the sentiment that accompanied the offer IS getting us through.
The unexpected graces have continued unabated for months on end: From texts of family, clients, and dear friends checking in to gift baskets, cards and generous lunch and dinner invitations; for the love and support we have experienced poured out on those who have lost loved ones; from quiet nights at home with family to extra miles gone by supermarket and carry out staffs to smile wide and sincerely; from Euchre and Scattegories nights to heart to heart conversations with loved ones about those things that matter most; from time with scripture to gratitude for being able to return to Church, it has, indeed, been a year of many and abundant unexpected Graces.
And it is in the spirit of trust that we have been brought through the fire and into a place in which we can more clearly see the gifts that are all around us as we start anew in 2021. Our hope does not arise from an undue expectation of a near-term better reality nor an end to very real problems, but because we are equipped with a new sense of security, one entrusted to and given by our Heavenly Father who brought us here and will safely carry us forward. If this past year has been about survival, may 2021 be about us living life as God intended. We humbly invite you to please join the CTS team in our mission to enhance lives through travel experiences that build culture so that 2021 can be all about renewal and growth with gratitude!