Independent agents are calling on hoteliers, tour operators and airlines to offer them free or significantly reduced travel to help get the market moving as it emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly Webcast, Designer Travel owner and joint managing director Amanda Matthews, said agents were desperate to be “guinea pigs” and be the first back on planes and into resorts and hotels, to then return and explain how safe travelling is to their clients.

She said: “When you’re face-to-face with clients, if you can use your own personal experience, it adds so much weight to your conversation and your clients’ confidence levels. Being able to explain the journey now, and what it’s like, would be a massively effective PR exercise for these suppliers.

“In some ways I’d pay us to come and visit; to do a journey; tell our clients on social media; and to explain what these places have done.”

Matthews added that such a gesture would also act as a “massive thank you” to the travel trade, adding: “We’ve all worked tirelessly, without days off, for no money and, in fact, losing money.”

Matthews said she had spoken to many agents, not just her own 90 homeworkers, who would be happy to be among the first travellers back. “Most travel agents I speak to will happily be the first ones on those planes, being the guinea pigs.”

She said she believed post-Covid holidays could “even be a better experience than under normal circumstances”, with hotels updating hygiene policies with initiatives like guaranteeing sunbeds for an entre stay.

Miles Morgan, chairman of Miles Morgan Travel, agreed hoteliers should be encouraging agents to visit, and said airlines should offer the same.

“When I started in travel, you used to be able to jump on airline seats using AD90s where you only paid 10% of the fare,” he said. “It was great for travel agencies, really short notice stuff, but it was wonderful.

“But now all of that has disappeared. You’ve got the crazy situation where airlines will fly to Dubai, New York or wherever, with empty seats. And if a travel agent wants to go on those seats, they charge them full price because it has to go against the budget, which is completely mad when the seat is totally empty. So airlines out there, why not bring that back in?”

Morgan said airlines could allow agents to travel in economy one way and business the other so that they could talk their clients through the different services.

“The opportunity is there as potentially, clients won’t be filling those airline seats,” he said. “But please don’t treat them as full price stuff that needs to be paid for under the marketing budget is just completely crazy. That’s what’s been happening lately, which is madness.”

Matthews said Morgan’s idea could equally apply to large tour operators. “Where you’ve got big suppliers that have committed stock, don’t send those holidays empty,” she said. “As travel agents, to get money off the mainstream tour operators has not been a possibility for many years – and I’m not saying it should be necessarily forever, but for the time being, we need to get as many people on those planes out there as quickly as possible that can come back and tell the tale.”

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