Aito Specialist Agents chair Gemma Antrobus says it’s time to make ‘tough decisions’ and ‘re-evaulate’

In my role as Aito Specialist Travel Agents’ chair, I am lucky to speak regularly with fantastic independent agents and tour operators alike. There is no doubt that, regardless of the size of each business, we have all felt the same way at every step of this ‘pandemic process’ since early March.

Like most, I was hugely optimistic in March. I believed that, by September, we would have turned a corner, that we’d be able to bring our teams back to the office and that our clients would be starting to travel freely, booking holidays as they used to.

I certainly didn’t imagine that, with the end of the furlough scheme looming, our industry would have had such a total lack of support from the government and be faced with mass redundancies of staff – people who many of us consider to be family, and with whom we’ve spent more time than our own families, and in whom we’ve invested so heavily, and they in us.

The whole situation is utterly heartbreaking. It’s a position that no business owner ever planned to be in and one that was completely unexpected.

Dwelling on the situation, however, won’t help our businesses or our industry. It is what it is. Some might disagree, but our industry leaders, associations and consortia have all but taken a battering ram to the doors of Parliament in the hope of being heard.

Countless hours have been spent strategising in order to take fully-realised plans to the government, in the hope of some sort of help. Could more have been done? Who knows? But now is not the time to be pointing fingers and turning on each other.

The long game

My plan has always been to play the long game. Like many other agencies, we cut back to bare bones immediately, and have remained that way since. The long hours, lack of sleep, continual worry and inability to take a break are certainly taking their toll. But in my heart and in my head, I know that patience, positivity and some out-of-the-box thinking are the only things that will see us through this crisis.

This long game is significantly longer than the one I had expected when we first hunkered down. But I still have the drive and optimism to push me through the next few months into 2021, when I sincerely hope that our clients will be able to travel more freely.

Business turnarounds

I always think it’s worth remembering – and reading up on – businesses that are now exceptionally successful but in the past were teetering on the edge of failure. I appreciate that it was in entirely different circumstances, but 20 years ago Apple – the 12th-richest company in the world in terms of revenue – was losing $1 billion a year. That all changed when Steve Jobs, the founder, returned to the fold and launched revolutionary products like the iMac.

What does this show us? To me, it says that the people to turn businesses around and secure their future success are the very people who lead them.
Time to re-evaluate

It’s back to basics. It’s about re-evaluating everything you’ve previously done. It’s time to spring-clean and truly look at what works and what doesn’t. It’s about making tough decisions, after being so caught up in the ‘doing’ for the past six months. If you have time to breathe, start re‑evaluating. If you don’t have time, make it!

See you all on the other side.