The last time I wrote my column was in February, and what a different place the world was then. Idle Travel had a brilliant January – in fact, our best in all our 36 years of trading. Fast forward to now and what a mess our industry is in.
So where do I start? Well, it has been horrendous – a living nightmare – and really hard mentally. Everybody’s normal life has had the types of impact you thought were reserved for disaster movies. Our industry has been devastated and its reputation torn apart.
Since going into lockdown in March, we’ve gone through closing the agency, furloughing staff, the logistics of setting up and running a travel agency from home, transferring calls and files and keeping customers informed of the ever-changing situation. I recall vividly the emotion of furloughing staff and on the last day before lockdown, saying our goodbyes and turning the key in the lock – not knowing how long this would last and what was to follow.
Back then it was all about the three Rs: rebooks, refunds and refund credit notes. At the beginning it was chaos, with some operators telling us one thing one day and changing it the next. As we all took a breath, some quickly grasped the situation and put procedures in place that let us get on with the three Rs and give our customers the service they expected, but not all.
At the beginning, the vast majority of passengers were happy to rebook, while some took the refund credit note. Others requested a refund, but as more companies refused to even consider refunds and the national media was awash with how some companies were treating their customers, you could feel the mood change – some of our customers were no longer willing to accept the voucher or wait for a refund, quoting the seven- or 14-day refund rule.
Luckily for us, the majority of our partners handled it well so we could move forward, but others proved more difficult. Now I know nobody was going to get it 100% right and we are all in survival mode – still – but how some suppliers have dealt with the refunds crisis has been a “like it or lump it” attitude, and we will not be dealing with these companies again. We will stick with those who have worked with us to move forward and help our survival.
Our customers come to us and put their trust in us to look after them and one of the most important purchases they make. We in turn put our trust in the trade partner that we think can deliver that, and they have our reputation in their hands.
It’s been the hardest six months we have ever had. It is heartbreaking to see the state of the industry I love and watch friends lose their jobs. The government has helped us with schemes like furlough and the Bounce Back loan, but seems unwilling and unable to understand what we need to save our industry.
We have seen some light at the end of the tunnel, though. On reopening we have stepped up marketing and new bookings are coming in, but it’s one step forward and two back at times with the likes of the ever-changing FCO advice.
We have had some great messages from our customers, and even lots of new customers, so I do believe that there is still a bright future for travel agents.
We now just need to make it to the end of that tunnel.