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Travel agents ‘back to square one’ with second lockdown

Lockdown 2 is the “final nail in the coffin” for many travel agents, according to the boss of a leading independent travel agency consortium.

Predicting the ban on international travel, announced on Saturday, would spell the end for many members, Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said, said: “Travel agents have been in desperate, desperate times over what is eight months now.

“There was a small glimmer of hope with the travel corridors, particularly the Canaries which came on board a week or so ago, to the point where agents were rejoicing when they made a few bookings.

“But today, instead of managing new bookings which they were all doing last week, they are faced with cancellations and refunds….again! We’re back to square one, which is where we were back in March. There’s no there’s no light at the end of the tunnel right now.”

Paul Cleary, owner and managing director at tour operator Caribtours, said: “Lockdown 2? That sounds like the worst ever Halloween movie…and that’s exactly what we’ve got.

“It’s a really confusing picture because, on the one hand, over the last couple of weeks, none of us could pretend we haven’t noticed regional lockdowns, so I was beginning to wonder how long we could go on with this shutting down more and more of the country without it affecting us.

“But you’ve got two decision-making bodies within government; those shutting down the country over there and people announcing the travel corridors over here.”

He said news of the corridors to the Maldives and Canaries had spiked demand.

“We’ve had nothing but good news the last few weeks,” he said “Business has been flying in October. Bookings have been 25% up on last October – that is incredible [because] last October was pre-Covid.”

He added that 68% of that business was for travel in November and over Christmas “because the population kind of felt we were coming out of it”.

Cleary said: “I’ve now got my staff working from eight o’clock yesterday morning, phoning out to 55 travel agents to handle 55 separate bookings that are all due to travel between Thursday and December 2. For some of those bookings, this is maybe the fourth or fifth time we’ve been making them.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, said: “I’m afraid this is just a disaster at the end of the year, when there could have been some hope for getting more business in and it’s just turned, as Paul [Cleary] says, into lockdown2. I call it lockdown limbo.

“Essentially, you’re back in a position where nobody’s got any visibility, especially as ministers are disagreeing over their message. It yet again creates confusion. Should I book? Should I change? Do I cancel flights? Do I run flights as an airline? Do I stay open as a hotel? Do I serve as business travellers only… It’s utter chaos out there and lots of people who did have bookings are now, obviously, trading them in.”

Charles added: “This has been a masterclass in how not to communicate one of the most important policy changes of the last year. It’s an about-turn from a tier system, which people were just starting to get used to. They’re losing confidence, and they’re not booking.”

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