“You’re always on duty as an agent,” Idle Travel’s Tony Mann tells TTG. He’s not wrong – Mann was accosted four times one lunch break last week, as worried locals quizzed him about their coronavirus travel concerns.
There’s no denying the impact Covid-19 is having on the travel sector, and not just for those due to visit affected destinations, but on forward bookings too. In a TTG poll, 90% of respondents said clients had been asking questions about the virus, while just 2% said they hadn’t seen any impact and weren’t concerned. (See full poll results here).
Westoe Travel’s Graeme Brett has revealed 85% of incoming phone calls last week were from clients already booked, but worried about the impact of coronavirus. Meanwhile, Barrhead Travel’s dedicated crisis team has been “working round the clock” to support clients and branches.
As ever, this crisis highlights just why agents remain so vital to the sector. “It shows the reassurance you get from using a travel agent,” says Brett, pointing out there is “a lot of misleading information”.
This, of course, is the industry’s challenge with a situation that remains so fast-paced. Trade bodies are doing their best to keep the sector updated; The Travel Network Group has launched a helpline while Advantage has a dedicated hub. And lawyer Farina Azam has also detailed agents’ legal obligations to TTG.
What is crucial to remember though is, as John Hays pointed out to Hays IG members yesterday, travel has been here before. From 9/11 to the 2008 financial crash to the ash cloud in 2010, Covid-19 is the latest in a long line of crises to hit the sector. During those periods, Hays tells TTG: “You do all the things even better than you did when customers were plentiful.”
His conclusion about this latest crisis? “We’re going to concentrate on customers – and hopefully emerge even stronger afterwards.”