“How many times do we see tears on a Zoom call? It’s probably happening every third day,” says The Travel Network Group chief executive Gary Lewis.
He tells TTG such calls with “50, 60, 70 agents” now often start with encouraging members to talk about their feelings. “Sometimes that’s just enough.”
Talking about issues like redundancies and cash burn “has been huge for members and for us” he shares. “It’s helped our mental health having those conversations, and it’s energised us to be there for members where we can.”
“I’ve personally had those tears and those fears with the family and with the teams through this process as everybody has, but we will never give up through this crisis; we’re fighting every day to get as many members through as possible.”
He tells of “some incredible things” his team has done. “Members of the team have said ‘I don’t need this salary at this level, reduce it’.
“The love and joy of people wanting to support and help has been inspiring and energising.”
Lewis describes how January’s lockdown meant “an immediate downturn” in consumer interest, but adds: “We are absolutely sure it will come back as soon as the tap is turned on. What worries me is that for that tap to be turned on, you need a clear, coordinated government response.”
ROADMAP TO RECOVERY
He describes the vaccine as “a miracle”, but “not the panacea”. “You have to have other things that are delivered alongside the vaccine. We have to have affordable testing.”
He believes “joined-up” testing and airport protocols are needed worldwide.
Lewis fears a situation where consumers are ready to travel, but hamstrung by bureaucracy.
“We’re shouting at government for a clear roadmap, because every day you can’t come out of the other side there will be businesses closing down.
“The government’s priorities are not the travel industry’s, quite rightly, but we have to keep shouting about the most important things. They should have time to do that roadmap and do the work with our key travel destinations.”
He says “huge” numbers of bookings are already in place. “That will be enough for a lot of businesses to get into the cash of next year.”
Lewis says order books are full and will fill again quickly for next year, but that a debt-laden sector still requires support. He pleads of the government: “Don’t let us fail without recognising we need a roadmap to come out the other side.”
Lewis hopes the government will have a better conversation with the industry when the death rate falls.
“Our members are not going to fall over if January, February, March doesn’t happen. It will really hurt if June, July, August doesn’t happen – unless we get extensions of the debt repayments, HMRC help, furlough help, grants… ”
He describes last June’s Global Travel Group acquisition from dnata – completed in December – as “critical from a sustainability perspective”.
“In March 2020 we thought we could lose 50, 60, 70% of our members. If we reduce to 30 members, we don’t have a business. Adding that amount of members meant it was a sustainable story.”
However, he adds: “Global gives us more revenues, more sustainability, but none of that matters if 2021, if 2022, doesn’t happen.”
Watch the full interview here.