Officials here in Northern Ireland seem more receptive to travel’s pleas and the outlook is brighter, says Thompson Travel owner Sharon Thompson.
I had a great opportunity last week to present evidence of the effects of the pandemic on my business to the Northern Ireland Executive.
I talked about the failures of government in the unfair allocation of funding to our industry, and put the case for further funding.
This was my fifth Zoom meeting with government representatives on travel issues in the past 20 months, and I strongly felt that this one was the most persuasive and productive.
“I had a great opportunity last week to present evidence of the effects of the pandemic on my business to the Northern Ireland Executive.”
I felt the executive committee took the time to fully understand the effect the pandemic has had on independent, rate-paying travel agents on the high street. Evidence was also presented by Damian Murphy, chairperson of the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents, and by Abta’s Northern Ireland chair, Heather Fielding, of Gallagher Travel. We explained how we must retain our skills base going forward and that further job losses in our industry cannot be an option.
A referral to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s own quarterly Covid-19 briefing paper, produced since April 2020, highlighted the fact that, as an industry, we were never listed as one of the most-affected sectors during the pandemic but were crudely grouped with retail.
The definition of retail is the ability to sell a product or service to a consumer. But, while we were allowed to sell, our customers had no product to avail of during the main lockdowns. Outside issues around Covid itself, travel was the second most-reported topic from the outset, yet the most ignored.
“We were never listed as one of the most-affected sectors during the pandemic but were crudely grouped with retail.”
We trust that these, and the many other valid points we put forward, will be taken on board and a plan implemented to offer a recovery package to Northern Irish travel agents in line with other industries and in recognition of the losses incurred.
It has been nice to receive calls from fellow travel agents, and some of the executive committee members who fully supported my submission. Hopefully our fight will be fruitful and all of us will benefit.
This week also brought excitement on our tour operation side. We’re really looking forward to selling our Israeli product to all you wonderful agents out there. We are speaking to Atol about group travel possibilities.
Our product knowledge for Israel is second to none and, now there are wonderful cruise packages on offer from Haifa, we intend to fully maximise our knowledge and allow customers to add our tailor-made ground packages.
“We’re really looking forward to selling our Israeli product to all you wonderful agents out there. We are speaking to Atol about group travel possibilities.”
Israel is a place lots of customers desire to visit. Whether walking or on a religious or historical tour, they benefit from the knowledge of a tour operator who understands the country and the sites to visit. We take you further than generic tours, with kayaking on the River Jordan, underground trips through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a night in the Judean desert, and a sound and light show on the walls of David’s Citadel.
My 21st visit is set for March 2022, as we celebrate 30 years in business. A fam trip will follow!
So, it’s onwards and upwards. Don’t look back, we aren’t going that way!
Looking ahead with caution
In an eventful, yet productive, week we can say that consumer confidence is slowly returning. While we are hitting the low booking season in the lead-up to Christmas, before sales ramp up in peaks, it has been nice to listen to enquiries for future bookings as opposed to the negativity we’ve been faced with over the past 20 months.
“While we are hitting the low booking season in the lead-up to Christmas, it has been nice to listen to enquiries for future bookings as opposed to the negativity.”
There is, finally, a sense of looking forward, albeit with caution. But the momentum is gradually growing and we can see that consumers really want a proper trip away in 2022. In terms of destinations, we are seeing a good amount of enquiries for the US, mostly beyond Easter. And there has been a healthy flow of customers interested in availing of their FCCs and getting their next cruise booked.