Travel agents across the country have found themselves in challenging situations following the government’s stay-at-home order. Juliet Dennis, Harry Kemble and Natalie Marsh spoke to several to find out how they are coping.
Jenni Freeman, Kuoni, Dorking
Jenni, a personal travel expert at Kuoni’s branch in Dorking, Surrey, was one of 70 staff made redundant by the operator – only for her job to be saved days later as a result of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“I’ve worked for Kuoni since January last year. It had taken me a long time to find a job where I felt I really belonged.
“Two weeks ago, we had an email explaining our options, including a pay cut, unpaid leave or voluntary redundancy. It was a shock and brought home the seriousness of the situation.
“I’m being furloughed for three months and I’ve put my name forward to be an NHS volunteer. I worked as a care assistant during a career break, so I can use this time off to do some good.”
“My manager came in crying. She said the company had to let go of everyone who had worked at Kuoni for less than two years. We all stood there in floods of tears.
I was going to buy a house this year. Then I started to think about how to pay my rent. It was devastating, but we all understood; no one was bitter or angry.
“Kuoni said they would pay me until the end of April, which they didn’t have to do. I was going to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance which is around £74 a week, and started looking for jobs to stack supermarket shelves. I was told as soon as it got back to normal, [Kuoni] would be knocking at my door, which was reassuring.
“That afternoon, I got a call from my manager asking if I wanted my job back! I burst into tears. I’m being furloughed for three months and I’ve put my name forward to be an NHS volunteer. I worked as a care assistant during a career break, so I can use this time off to do some good. I am also learning sign language; we have so man customers who are hard of hearing.
“It sounds clichéd, but Kuoni feels like my family, and it’s just the biggest relief to know I will be able to go back to my job oncethis is all over.”
Lynda Ross, Stewart Travel, Kilmarnock
The branch manager has been working round-the-clock with her team to bring home four customers stranded overseas, while creating a study-at home routine for her 11-year-old daughter.
“As you can imagine it has been tough, but Ellie’s school has been good and provided a lot of work for her to do on a website called Glow. I am just trying to keep her to a routine, making sure she is getting up, dressed and doing her literacy and maths.
“My store has four people overseas – one in Australia, one in the US and two boys in their 20s in Thailand. We are working around the clock to get them home.”
“It is very difficult to manage because I am as busy as I have ever been – it is hectic. My husband, Derek, is in the kitchen and I am in the dining room. Ellie is in her bedroom. She did start in the dining room at the end of the table but that lasted about an hour. Now I just go up to her room and check on her. I can see the progress that she is making online. My husband is loud, so I keep going into the kitchen and giving him my angry face.
“I do my usual team talk at 9am and then all 13 store managers have a conference call at 10. It is just constant throughout the day. The staff are emailing rather than shouting across the shop as the information is changing all the time. I worked in travel after 9/11 and I thought that was bad. It is not about booking holidays; it is about rebooking them. My store has four people overseas – one in Australia, one in the US and two boys in their 20s in Thailand. We are working around the clock to get them home.
“We are fortunate that we still have our jobs and we’re safe, but I do miss talking to people. I miss the company too.”
Linda Armit, Barrhead Travel, Glasgow
Since closing its stores last Tuesday, Barrhead employees are now based at
home. Head of sales Linda explains how they’re keeping in touch.
“Our branch managers are used to being surrounded by people. They’re used to seeing customers and teams face-to-face, so adapting to email communication has probably been the toughest challenge. We’ve got Zoom and we’re loving it. We’re doing business updates, which is critical for them to know what’s happening in the business, and introducing fun activities as well. One of the challenges of working from home is forgetting to take a break, so we’re trying to do Zoom coffee chats and lunch breaks so it’s not business all the time and we can catch up and see how everyone is. We’re also launching a telephone service so agents can make calls to customers from home. We’re working with key operators to try to get access to them quicker. For some managers, it’s about getting used to a laptop; some of them have never used a laptop before.”
Kelly Brooks, Premier Travel, Suffolk
Travel consultant Kelly has been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job
“It’s surreal; I keep thinking I’m going to wake up soon. We had a closed door policy until the lockdown. People could look through the window and wave at us.
“We have a lovely team of five with nearly 140 years of travel experience between us. Our manager, Amanda, is now working from home but the rest of us have been furloughed for eight to 10 weeks to avoid redundancy.
“We have all been keeping in touch, making sure each other is OK. I’m trying to go for a walk every day and I will do some gardening. I am keeping positive; that’s all you can do.”
“Amanda has been a rock throughout all of this. The company doesn’t want to lose us and wants us back when it’s back to normal. We’ve all been so well looked after. I’m going to miss it; I normally skip to work!
“I am part-time and will be 60 this year. I just want the business to come through this. We have all been keeping in touch, making sure each other is OK. I’m trying to go for a walk every day and I will do some gardening. I am keeping positive; that’s all you can do.”
Jayde Nassa, Nassa Travel, Newport
Agency owner Jayde wonders what will be left of her team when she returns to the office.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it. There is nothing much I can do. As I am working from home, my mum Susan has both kids for two hours a day as she lives on the same street. I have two girls who are three and five years old. They are coping OK. My mum has lung cancer, so she is finding it hard.
“When we’re together I cook for the kids and we make cakes. We are watching a lot of Disney films. I had to make all of my staff redundant on March 11, and some of them have got new jobs. Now there is this new [furloughing] scheme, which I don’t have a clue about.
“My monthly cashflow reduced to 20%, so it was an absolute nightmare. Most of my income last year came from bookings made in May and June. Everybody has now cancelled and I’ve now got no income.”
“It is hard. One of them has a got a new job with the NHS, another is at a call centre and a third is not replying to my texts. I am going to keep the other on full time. I think it is going to be hard to recruit staff. Maybe people do not want to get into travel?
“My monthly cashflow reduced to 20%, so it was an absolute nightmare. Most of my income last year came from bookings made in May and June. Everybody has now cancelled and I’ve now got no income. This is why I had to let staff go, because of cancellation after cancellation. I’ve had to apply for a £10,000 cash grant from the local council.
“My Facebook feed has 35,000 followers and the whole of Newport seem to be asking questions. I can see the future: when this ends, everybody will want to go on holiday.”
How to manage your time when working from home
• Make a daily schedule: Include breaks or time to go for a walk. If you have children, write a timetable so everyone knows when it’s time for lunch, lessons – or when not to bother you.
• Keep up appearances: Dress like you are going to work to put yourself in the right frame of mind – even if you are at your kitchen table.
• Keep busy: If you face some months off work, use the time to tackle those long-avoided jobs.
• Keep in touch: Speak to friends and colleagues on the phone or via social media.
• Make the most of the web: If you’re working from home and home-schooling your kids, make the most of websites offering free content. Travel Weekly has kids’ activity packs and information on destinations and top tourist attractions offering virtual tours and other interactive activities.
Do you have tips for agents stuck at home? Let us know. Email email@example.com