Agents fighting on the front line for the industry came together to voice their most pressing concerns last week amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Difficulty accessing government relief schemes and the refund debate were hot topics of discussion for the first live-streamed Agent Matters panel with TTG last week.
Oasis Travel managing director Sandra Corkin; Gemma Antrobus, managing director of Haslemere Travel; and Idle Travel director Tony Mann convened to discuss their experiences working through the coronavirus crisis with TTG Media group editor Pippa Jacks.
This session was the first in a series of weekly agent panels, which will air at 11am on Tuesdays going forward.
The three agents agreed the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which sees the government refund businesses 80% of a furloughed worker’s wage up to £2,500 a month, is difficult for travel agents to exploit.
Furloughed employees cannot do any work for the business, which includes answering emails and phone calls, and many agencies need their staff to handle the wave of rebookings, refunds and cancellation requests.
“We need an exemption if we are still trying to fulfil business but want to save costs to keep the business going for the future,” said Mann. “We are hanging on by the skin of our teeth.
“It’s been stressful, absolutely. I have had some sleepless nights, and I am not afraid to admit there have been tears shed as well.”
The panel also discussed problems accessing the new Business Interruption Loan. This sees loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million made available to SMEs.
The government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments and provide guarantees for 80% on each loan.
However, Mann said his bank is asking for personal guarantors and Corkin highlighted how loans might affect Atol and Abta bonds in the future. “It’s [meant to be] there not to drag us down, but help us through these times,” said Mann.
Antrobus added: “I have already heard stories of agents who have applied but been declined because they have too much money – banks are waiting for you to literally be on the brink before they will agree to this. Every bank is different but some banks are not being very helpful.”