Like every person currently working in travel, if you had said that we would ever reach a situation like this, we would have laughed and said you were crazy.
Over the years I have found myself saying over and over again “if we can get through this, we can get through anything”.
Remember the volcanic ash cloud, 9/11, adverse weather, ongoing industrial action and Brexit?
Well, never have those words been more true. While many of us used to say this flippantly, this is now a very real situation for every business in the travel industry.
As a business owner, like many of you, I’ve had to make some very tough decisions about my company, and will continue to do so, but it has made me think hard about how I want my business to operate – in the long term and how to minimise the massive vulnerability that we are currently facing.
Everyone is working twice as hard for half or no income right now.
We are all trying to minimise cancellations, as many of us will have already spent/used/invested these funds two months ago, in running our businesses.
We all want clients to rebook for a future date or hold that money as a credit, so that right now we don’t have to find money we don’t have.
But while this is wonderful in the short term, these clients will then not be booking their holidays further down the line and we will have to weather that loss of business or look for ways to increase revenue.
A number of years ago I attended a forum at ILTM in Cannes along with TTG Luxury’s April Hutchinson and fellow agent, Oliver Broad from RB Collection.
The session brought together young (well, we were then) travel business leaders from across the globe to discuss the changing face of our industry.
I recall so clearly sitting with travel designers from the US, who failed to understand how our business model in the UK did not include either annual retainer fees or consultancy fees on every enquiry and booking.
This is something that has always played on my mind. Why is it that we offer our services, for free? Why is our industry and our level of knowledge given so little regard and respect that we literally fear asking clients to pay for our time? Why don’t we charge for this?
When – not if – we come through this, surely this would be the perfect time to press the reset button and change the way we value ourselves as an industry and amend its structure.
Too many man-hours are currently being spent, not just for free, but for negative income, and this has to change.
Whatever is decided will have to be adopted industry-wide, but I don’t expect anyone who is currently working around the clock will disagree that their time is not valuable and needs monetising.
Let’s start this conversation now! Let’s look to our successful counterparts in other countries. Let’s find a model that works for us and get it in place soonest.
This needs input from every side of the industry and particularly from our trade bodies, so please can we start talking.
Gemma Antrobus is managing director of Haslemere Travel.