Banned Together: Syrian-American Travel Agent Says Travel Ban Turned Her Small Business Into ‘No Business’
February is usually a busy time for travel agent Manal Mashal, who runs Noor Travel out of her family’s home in southwest suburban Hickory Hills.
The Syrian native said she has built up a clientele of Middle Eastern travelers who typically start booking summer trips to their homelands by now.
But not this year.
“I didn’t book any family trips since (the executive order),” Mashal said. “It’s scary for them, for us, for everybody.”
President Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, have many of Mashal’s potential customers scared to commit to a vacation.
A federal judge last week suspended the ban, but the uncertainty remains as travelers await a ruling from a federal appeals court.
Mashal, 44, said even U.S. citizens like herself -- or people from Middle Eastern countries not on the list -- are too nervous to travel.
She said the trouble began when the ban was suddenly rolled out late Friday, Jan. 27.
“I got a phone call from a customer who was leaving the next day and she was very nervous saying, ‘Oh did you hear about the thing? We cannot travel anymore, we cannot come back?,’” Mashal said. “I didn’t know anything about it yet, so I told her it cannot be, this is not real, you are a green-card holder, you belong to this country.”
Mashal said she then researched the order and gave the woman a refund.
“And then it kept coming, like call after call, let me tell you, for like 48 hours. I didn’t go to sleep,” she said.
About 30 people canceled their trips in those 48 hours, costing her at least $600 in commissions, Mashal said.
Usually, the airlines impose a fee of some sort for last minute cancellations. But in this case, the airlines waived the penalty.
“This is as it should be, the customer had nothing to do with it so it’s not his fault,” Mashal said. “At the same time we have to give back the commission.”
Mashal has three children, aged 14, 13 and 8. Her business is named after her youngest child.
She said the income from the travel agency is essential to making ends meet. Her husband drives a limo and does translation at the airport.
“I’m supporting the family, me and the father … we have to work together,” she said.
Trump campaigned to victory in part by promising to make life better for business owners in America. Mashal said that for her the travel ban is having the opposite effect.
“It’s become no business,” she said. “Maybe (Trump) is a big business man. He doesn’t think about small business, small people, getting low incomes.”
Editor’s note: WBEZ spoke with Chicago-area residents from each of the seven countries named in President Donald Trump’s travel ban. They spoke about how the uncertainty is affecting their businesses, careers and students. Find all of their stories here.
Patrick Smith is a producer and reporter at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @pksmid.