Did you book a vacation or hotel stay before the planes stopped flying, borders started closing, and everyone went into lockdown?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably got some flights, hotel bookings, or even vacation packages out there hanging in limbo.

On behalf of the travel industry, we’re asking you to please postpone your plans, don’t cancel them. When you push for a cash refund, there’s a whole chain reaction of woe with the workers who depend on tourists to survive. It’s “trickle down economics” that actually happens—but in reverse.

This short video from Latin Trails of Ecuador says it best:

One Booking, Many Workers

When you think back on your last vacation, how many locals did you directly interact with who were serving you? For a hotel stay, at a minimum it was probably a front desk clerk, restaurant servers and barkeeps, someone who cleaned the room. At a bigger place, maybe a bellman, doorman, or concierge. Then there was the driver who delivered you to the door and the manager who kept things humming. In the background were cooks, a dishwasher, and the reservations person.

Outside the hotel, if you were on some kind of tour you had another driver, a guide, more restaurant servers and cooks. Any site or museum had workers there, any park had rangers, security, and upkeep staff. If you bought anything on site there were store workers, then behind them the people who crafted the souvenir or manufactured the food or drink item. The store owner paid a landlord and probably the municipality employing office workers from what people like you spent.

If  you bought a street snack, got your shoes shined, or tipped a mariachi music band, your vacation touched more people who were in part employed by your vacation.Weaver women of Peru on the Lares adventure tour in the Andes Mountains flanking the Sacred Valley

If you take a Galapagos cruise with a company like Andando Tours or Latin Trails, the whole ship crew is working for you, but then also a whole network of people are behind the scenes on the islands and back in Quito. The airline that got you there and back home had workers too.

So what happens to all these people when travel stops? How do they keep food on the table if this goes on for months and then you ask for a refund on your deposit on top? Will the company you worked with—and their local partners—even survive? It sounds dramatic to say your single refund will put them out of business, but you can easily imagine that if eight or ten people do the same it could easily have that effect in a hurry.

The Hidden Side of a Loss of Tourism

For that thought exercise above, I only went through the most obvious people that suffer when you cancel and demand a refund instead of a credit when you just postpone the vacation. When a hotel or tour company goes out of business, it’s easy to see the immediate impact for direct employees.

What’s harder to see is the chain reaction that it sets off. There are many less visible jobs that are lost: caterers, food suppliers, maintenance workers, tourism bureau workers, taxi drivers, musicians, and flower sellers can all feel the pinch. For starters. Then it goes upstream to banks, to governments, to transportation systems.

If all that is not bad enough, what about all the charitable programs these tourism companies have been supporting? The good companies routinely set aside part of their profits to help those in need or they fund local environmental programs. When the income dries up, 10% of nothing is…nothing.

Already we are receiving appeals like this from Sol y Luna Hotel in the Sacred Valley of Peru:

The principal source of funding, Hotel Sol y Luna, is temporarily closed due to the global situation. And the majority of our other sponsors and donors come from the tourism sector, one of the most affected industries in this crisis.

The children of the Sol y Luna Home are currently being cared for by tutors and volunteers, but their future is uncertain, as is that of the 200 children who are educated and cared for by the Sol y Luna Foundation. Any donation, however small, will be appreciated. Go here.

How many kids are in trouble already from programs like this that are running out of funds? What happens to charity work in a country like Peru—or Mexico’s poorest states of Oaxaca and Chiapas—if the tour companies helping the most needy go out of business? What is the environmental impact in Chile, Brazil, or Ecuador when the donor companies who support the ecotourism programs start teetering on the edge?

In places like Napo Wildlife Center, the community, the lodge, and the jungle environment are all joined at the hip. When one aspect is in trouble, they all are.

Napo Wildlife Center community

We don’t want to be preachy and it’s your money sure. We know that a wide swath of the world is suffering financially from this unprecedented health crisis. We’re hoping though, since this is Luxury Latin America, that you can let your money sit with a company for a while. If you postpone instead of cancel, the company will still be there later when we can travel again. It’s not an exaggeration to say the livelihoods of dozens or even a hundred could be impacted by your actions.

Ask for a credit, then go later. It’ll have a ripple effect impact that’s positive.

For the sake of the people who can’t speak to you right now, postpone, don’t cancel.

If you have a story to tell on this subject, please leave it in the comments!