Jess Shelton-Agar, head of sales, APT, thanks the trade for their efforts over the last year this Valentine’s Day 

For most of us, this has been one of the most challenging 12 months we’ve ever had – and it’s been particularly tough on this industry that we all love so much.

I’m always a glass-half-full person, and like to look on the bright side of life, but on some days over the last year it’s been harder to do that than others.

Travel is our passion. It’s been humbling to watch how the love for our sector has unified us all, and how tightly our industry came together throughout the last year.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I want to celebrate the amazing people that we work alongside, and particularly travel agents, who have been the backbone of it all.

Responding to deluge after deluge of customer queries, exploring all the options for rebooking guests, coordinating future travel credits, dealing with calls around the clock, working tirelessly to support clients, keeping across the changing restrictions, and being forced to furlough teams or being furloughed, we have all had one hell of a year.

Travel has been uniquely exposed throughout the pandemic, and never before have agents’ love for their customers, their operator, hotel and airline partners, their jobs, and for the travel industry as a whole, been tested so greatly. It’s been an exhausting 12 months and every single one of us has had to dig deep.

Companies such as ours – with the majority of business coming through collaborations with valued agent partners – have seen the amazing efforts that the trade has put into navigating every hurdle, every border closure, and the ever-evolving quarantine restrictions.

Travel agents have responded to these challenges with an open heart and a positive attitude that has been inspiring to us all, and putting their clients at the forefront of everything they did.

I am sure there have been moments when that felt unmanageable, but customers will remember how well they were looked after when the chips were down, and the loyalty that will have created should yield dividends as customers come flooding back to snap up holiday availability in 2022.

It was encouraging to read that 70% of those surveyed for Silver Travel Advisor’s 2021 report want to travel abroad, showing the growing confidence in travel that is being stimulated by the vaccination rollout.

Here at APT, and right across the industry, we are seeing that reflected in our booking numbers.

There’s no doubt that there will be further bumps in the road ahead, but we are seeing some green shoots developing, and now is the time for agents to start capitalising on the goodwill that they have generated and the love that their customers will have for them.

In this often-shifting landscape, it is important for agents to use this time to communicate with and educate their customers about the fantastic Covid protection and flexibility being offered by many operators, such as ours, so that they can book future travel with complete confidence.

Knowing that, should they need to, they can reschedule their holidays or arrange a refund without any issues will take away the potential barriers to securing a sale at this time.

The last 12 months have highlighted the value of booking through a travel agent like never before.

Those customers whose holiday plans were impacted by Covid-related border closures and quarantine measures will have had first-hand experience of the expert counsel and help that the trade can offer, and how essential it is to have a professional advocate behind them to assist when things need to be changed.

The support and kindness that everyone in this amazing industry has shown to one another over the last year, and the reciprocal love we all have for our customers, has been nothing short of incredible.

It has given us all the strength to keep going, even when times have been at their hardest.

Agents have been the lifeblood of our sector during the pandemic, and will continue to be the beating heart of our industry for the future.