Savannah Travel’s Kerry Lakey tells Juliet Dennis it was third time lucky for the couple who went on to book again

Q. How long have you had your own agency?
A. The shop has been open for three years and I’ve been in travel since 2002. I worked at different versions of Co‑op Travel and was a cluster manager for three Thomas Cook shops [following the joint venture]. I also worked for an independent but was then made redundant. I didn’t want that to happen again. It was my parents and my sister who said ‘don’t let redundancy happen again – take control by running your own business’.

Luckily my mum and sister are accountants and they deal with that side of the business for me as that’s the bit that frightened me. They persuaded me to take the leap. The night before opening Savannah Travel, I had a bit of a panic. I had invested all my savings. But it was the right decision; I wish I’d done it earlier. We are in Fulford, a lovely part of York outside the centre, and have a loyal base of customers. When we came to look at the premises, you could see the house my grandma was born in from the window – so we knew this was the shop for me!

“The night before opening Savannah Travel, I had a bit of a panic. I had invested all my savings. But it was the right decision; I wish I’d done it earlier.”

Q. What was business like pre-lockdown?
A. The business had been growing every year. York had the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the UK, the night before I ran my holiday show on January 31. Even then it was a talking point among customers at our event. But up until the week before lockdown, we were still doing good bookings for travel until the end of March and April. It wasn’t putting customers off. One of the last bookings we had before lockdown was a late booking for Japan. The customers were determined to go at the start of April. That got delayed until November – and now that’s not going to happen.

“One of the last bookings we had before lockdown was a late booking for Japan. The customers were determined to go at the start of April. That got delayed until November – and now that’s not going to happen.”

Q. Tell us how you managed to ensure your clients Mark and Marina got married this year after their wedding was cancelled due to Covid restrictions.
A. They were first-time bookers with us and we booked their wedding last summer for them. We had planned everything, the travel and the wedding at Sandals in Jamaica in May. We realised it was not going to happen. They were adamant they wanted to have their day. We rebooked them for August and everything worked out well for the ceremony to go ahead at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa.

When I first contacted Sandals Resorts about the rebooking the company’s phones were off and we had to email. I thought I’d be waiting days for a reply but they were extremely quick and assigned someone to sort out the reservation and the wedding. We had to keep going back to the resort as the customers had questions about the experience and the Covid restrictions. Then, a matter of weeks before they were due to travel in August, British Airways reduced the schedule and cancelled their flight. We relooked at the schedule and managed to book them for a few days earlier; it was a case of third time lucky.

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“We had planned everything, the travel and the wedding at Sandals in Jamaica in May. We realised it was not going to happen. They were adamant they wanted to have their day.”

Q. Even better, you got another booking from the same couple?
A. While they were away we got a lovely message from Mark and Marina saying they were having such a lovely time that they wanted to rebook for a year later for their first wedding anniversary! They booked while in the resort and Sandals assigned us the booking. It was a real boost to know they had gone and they were going to go back for their anniversary. It was needed as we hadn’t had much in the way of positive news.

“People want a change of scenery. It feels like I am an administrator rather than a travel agent at the minute. The demand is there and people are happy to do the testing before travel.”

Q. Seven months on from when the UK lockdown was put in place, how do you feel currently about business?
A. It’s difficult to keep up with the travel restrictions, in the UK too. People want a change of scenery. It feels like I am an administrator rather than a travel agent at the minute. The demand is there and people are happy to do the testing before travel. I have not used my passport for a year now, which is so unusual! And I miss having the reps come into the shop and all the travel industry events.


How are you coping with the pandemic?

I have one member of staff on furlough, who is coming back at the start of November. At the start of the lockdown I had a lot of refunds to do, and I was working around the clock because we had customers overseas. There are still some refunds now and changes to make for those due to travel in November and December.

“Luckily we have a nice landlord who is in contact regularly so we can manage the rent costs. When this started in March, I was due to pay another quarter of rent and he said ‘don’t worry, focus on your job’.”

What is proving more difficult is when the government adds destinations to the safe list and customers immediately say they want to go, but countries may not be allowing people from this country in.

I am checking destination travel advice two or three times a week and at the moment I am reluctant to take bookings too far ahead. Luckily we have a nice landlord who is in contact regularly so we can manage the rent costs. When this started in March, I was due to pay another quarter of rent and he said ‘don’t worry, focus on your job’. That brought me to tears.