It was about five minutes into the phone call the realisation hit.
The conversation had begun over Twitter. “I could literally cry,” Sophie Baker, owner of Oyster Travel had messaged, minutes after transport minister Grant Shapps tweeted out his latest travel advisory, revoking the UK’s travel corridor status for Turkey and Poland.
“I’m sitting here after working all day on an enquiry for Turkey. I booked a Poland holiday yesterday, handed out some tickets to Turkey today, made a booking to Turkey and put a Poland offer on Facebook. I’m literally at a loss of what to do.”
I asked Sophie if I could give her a call. When she picked up, her voice was raw with emotion.
Initially there was anger. “We are so bloody devastated,” she raged. “We’ve worked so hard this week for these bookings. We were so pleased to have bookings for Poland and Turkey. Now they’re ruined - we’ve got to hand back most of the money we’ve just brought in.
“Just as we dared to think that maybe we might be getting somewhere, everything has just…,” then there was silence. “I just have don’t have words any more.”
Sophie explained that last month the agency made £8,000 in commission. “I was so happy,” she said. “And then we paid out £8,200 in cancellations.
“On top of that I have to pay all my staff wages. How much longer do they expect us to survive? I’ve got 11 staff – I don’t want my staff losing their jobs.
“Oyster Travel has always bucked the trend – we’ve always managed to stay buoyant when others haven’t been as lucky. But this is different. I cant keep paying money out and having nothing coming in,” she added quietly.
Her voice broke. “It’s just hit me,” she sobbed. “ I just don’t know what to do.”
Sophie’s words could be those of one of hundreds of travel agents across the UK, many of whom are facing closure or redundancies as the government continues to refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary challenges facing the sector.
“We’ve had some enquiries but I don’t even know where to send people this winter,” Sophie says. “Not everyone has the money for the Caribbean.”
This time last year the agency, a former Freedom member, was dealing with the collpase of Thomas Cook. I visited the team as part of the 2020 Top 50 Travel Agencies in January - at the time the team told me it had been some of the most heartbreaking and stressful months of their lives.
Sophie says those months now pale in comparison. “The Freedom situation was awful. But this is worse,” she says helplessly. “There is just no end in sight.”