Julie Sivertson, Gather Away
"Morocco closes its borders: land, sea and air! The travel advisor’s relationships save the day.”
"After 20 years in the travel industry handling emergencies of all kinds, nothing will compare to getting my parents out of Morocco after the Moroccan government closed its borders – land, sea and air! – during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week was one for the record books.
My 75-year-old parents are avid travelers and were not deterred by advisories for older Americans to reconsider travel during COVID-19. They were assured by their tour operator that their trip to Morocco was operating as planned and there were no disruptions or closures that would affect the itinerary.
Oh, how that all changed so quickly . . .
A few days later, while my parents were blissfully unaware enjoying the Sahara Desert, Morocco was canceling flights to European countries and the international travel situation was deteriorating by the minute. I re-booked them on the first available flights departing Casablanca on Friday, March 20th, only to wake up the next day, Monday, March 16th, to the announcement that the Moroccan government had put a stop to all international travel in and out of the country.
I mobilized. The next three days I was up all hours, setting my alarm for 1am MST (8am in Morocco) so I could stay informed to the constantly changing situation in real-time, and then remaining up through the late-night news in the U.S. in case any further announcements were made available. I had multiple phones and computers in front of me at all times, reaching out to local contacts in Morocco, travel partners here in the U.S., the U.S. government, the tour operator my parents were traveling with, commercial airlines, and charter companies.
It is always the responsibility of a travel professional to advocate for travelers in difficult situations but the added pressure of those travelers being my parents was a new level of intensity. Of all the travelers I have worked with through emergencies over the years, the idea that I might not be able to help two of the most important people in my life, my parents, was agony. I was not going to accept no for an answer.
I reached out to a local contact in Morocco who I have worked with on and off for the past six years at a top Moroccan DMC. He had already spent the weekend working tirelessly to get travelers that his company was responsible for out of the country by all means possible. He had no obligation to me or responsibility to my parents who were traveling with another tour operator.
Those three days that I was up all hours, he was there with me. He was in constant contact, keeping me informed as departure possibilities opened up, and then just as quickly closed. I continued to explore all angles for flights out of the country, but his efforts on the ground staying in contact with Moroccan authorities was what worked in the end. He was able to secure two tickets for my parents on a last-minute scheduled commercial flight to London, and with a moment's notice, we coordinated to whisk them from their Riad to the Marrakech airport in record time. By the time they arrived in London that evening, I had arranged a transfer from Stansted to Heathrow, a hotel overnight, and flights the next morning back to the U.S. They are now safely at home.
Many played a role in getting my parents out of the country, from governments negotiating rescue flights to airlines operating them and other efforts that I will never know. Ultimately, though, their departure from Morocco was made possible due to selfless kindness and efforts of travel industry colleagues. Why my local contact and others helped when they didn’t have to?... because humanity wins. I am eternally grateful and proud to be a part of such an incredible global network of travel professionals who step up in these uncertain times to ensure we can all get through this together."