In just under 20 years in business I cannot recall a more uncertain time, sure everyday is truly uncertain but what has struck me with the Pandemic is the extremely difficult task of picking a way through it for our customers and for us. When will widespread travel open up again, is there a niche destination to look at that will fair better than most and if so will Governments recognise that rather than the blunt tools of travel corridors, tests, masks and isolation periods. The answer to all this is ‘who knows’, certainly nobody in charge does or we would have some semblance of a plan, so how is a travel agency business to survive the crisis whilst there are still client bookings to amend or push for refunds, fixed costs to keep up with and little income? How do we hibernate properly to ensure we come back stronger? First and foremost, you make sure your customers are looked after!
I’d like to think we’ve had a successful Pandemic so far. We’ve suffered no customer complaints, received glowing reviews of our handling of issues, every customer has contacted us easily and found a sympathetic and energetic voice (trust me that on some days this was tough) always understanding what the customer feels and needs from the potential issues to what can we do to get this sorted for the customer. We’ve stayed in business, unlike countless others, we’ve kept our phones on, unlike most Online Agents and credit where it’s due the Government schemes have provided a safety net for us to able to do so.
Ever since the middle of March 2020 the business has spun from mainly taking enquiries and bookings to endless hours of administration and commission claw backs. Whilst the furlough has been a life support for lots of businesses and certainly individuals it has led to a serious reduction in the workforce available at Tour Operators and Airlines to take calls and help solve customer issues. In the early days particularly, it was a daily occurrence to have three phones going on hold in queues for 3-4 hours waiting to speak with someone over a refund or date change. This has got easier over the months as the pipeline of bookings dwindled down but what has also dwindled is the balance of the support measures gratefully received and the level of claw back for commission already paid has risen. The good old days of enquiries and bookings that lead to actual holidays can’t come fast enough.
Sure we’ve managed to get some customers away this year, had enquiries and could certainly have pushed lots of offers and advertising out there to encourage business to pick up but early on this wasn’t fair whilst customers waited for refunds. Further on I recognised that the only actions likely to mitigate the issues and build confidence, and stable government action, is a vaccine and or serious testing facilities across the Country and airports. Without those we are almost certain to see problems until probably Spring 2021 and potentially further. So, I held off with a view that what is good for my customers is good for my business long term and instead worked on the business and avenues to greatness once we’re back in good health as a nation. We have an updated website, a switch of consortium so we have better commercial terms with suppliers and more scope and flexibility to create fantastic holidays bespoke to customer wishes, plus I’m working on a niche around overseas wellness and Spa holidays, just what we need to help recover from this long winter we’re in for. There are a few other developments in the pipeline but closed lips on those until the ink is dry. As we moved out of the late summer period I seriously considered not taking any bookings that travelled before April 2021 but settled that it is up to a customer and our job is to provide all the information they need to take the decision. As the Covid cases rose once again our advice was and still is to enquire and book extremely last minute for breaks over the next six months, a tragedy for us is a customer tying money up with a supplier for weeks on end and not getting the holiday either. It’s also a tragedy for the business as a booking brings costs and a holiday cancellation means no revenue.
So, what is to happen from here? As above ‘uncertain’ is the time but here’s what I’m banking on. We’ll see confidence build on the announcement of a vaccine and or a decent airport testing regime that gets rid of any onerous isolation periods or we move through to 2021 and the facts show Covid not to be the danger to the masses once feared, any of these should see a resurgence in confidence to plan ahead for sunnier days. My job is to try to get my customers confirmed on their holiday arrangements just before the masses realise better times are coming and the market pushes the costs up and the availability down. I think the sweet spot is coming and it will most likely be over the last part of this year.
If I’m right remains to be seen but logically thinking where is the harm in booking a Spring 2021 and forward break on a small deposit (probably with a confidence guarantee) as something to look forward to, one thing is for sure and that’s we’ll know lots more by next year.