I don’t see anyone talking about, or really grasping, the restrictions of furlough – which is more a stay of execution than a solution for a decimated industry.
This is not least because it’s so hard to recover, especially with ongoing restrictions, haphazard and erratic policy, consumer uncertainty, staff exhaustion, and sensationalist media coverage.
No industry has been affected from day one of Covid like we have in travel. I appreciate it’s unprecedented, but yet to me, it’s bordering on negligent how our myopic – and consistently ignorant – government has misunderstood and marginalised our sector and those immediately concerned, while hiding from unpopular decisions.
I still don’t think the powers that be grasp the fundamentals of "service" in the current environment and within the constraints of current laws. In my opinion, it has always been the case there should have been a "jobkeeper" approach to roles in travel and tourism rather than furlough. We still have to service customers – appeasing, advising, booking, changing, cancelling, refunding and rebooking – while keeping our businesses running.
That means keeping jobs open, maintaining payroll and mandatory pensions and paying bills and tax, not to mention trying to rebuild from ashes – all the time while running on fumes, taking the brunt of consumer criticism, and operating with reduced staffing.
Staff then come back from furlough straight into ongoing complaints and issues, as well as an exhausted, struggling environment in an industry that has no clear “other side”. In many cases, they’ll be looking to move on as soon as possible and the companies that have them back will be considering cutting those roles artificially kept open.
At the very least, there should be an admin-light hybrid for travel companies, enabling staff to work – a mix of jobkeeper and furlough that may be alternated as the company sees fit. All work on refunds and other non profit generating responsibilities, as necessary by law, should be 100% underwritten – possibly with grants available to service issues.
To me, for government to inexcusably fail to grasp these basics is a massive, massive oversight and one so obviously agreed by politicians rather than business. It didn’t, and doesn’t, have to be this difficult.
I don’t think, by the very nature of their lack of commercial nous, any government would have got this right – but a little thinking and sharpening of the saw would have saved a lot of pain, a lot of jobs and a lot of tax. It would have saved the industry, and/or at least have allowed it to function at a level until the light returned.
Furthermore, there should be, and should have been, consideration that travel sellers are beholden to their suppliers and these suppliers’ approach to time management and refunds. Those same suppliers do not have the consumer pressure and refund laws, whether that’s package travel regulations or basic consumer law.
The delay in refunds from the supply chain, far removed from the frontline trenches where agents and operators are, is something else – along with managing consumers – that organisers and travel companies must accommodate along with all the other pain. It’s a nonsense.
Still, we keep going because generally people in the industry are great. However, we’re definitely carrying the weight of ignorant policy.
Simon Denning is founder and director of group travel and events specialist Groupia. He wrote for TTG in response to the call from a cross-party group of more than 70 parliamentarians on Thursday (15 July) for the furlough scheme to be extended for the travel, tourism and aviation sectors.