A sense of hope has returned but there are still many pressures, says Miles Morgan

It’s tough in this middle bit. Over the past few weeks, a sense of hope has returned but things still feel very difficult.

Last year was tough and relentless, with little light at the end of the tunnel, or much hope. And this year started slowly as we were locked down again to contain the spread of the new variants identified before Christmas.

Now, however, the course hopefully appears to be set. Two dates etched in the minds of those in the travel industry are April 12 and May 17; the first of these should give us confirmation of when travel will resume (and we can choose to open our shops again) and the second could be the date our first customers of the year depart.

But life as a travel agent remains a real challenge.

Those dates remain subject to change and, while they give hope, they offer nothing factual to advise customers. Meanwhile, the cancellations carry on at pace and have to be juggled with new enquiries.

Last week, we saw a wave of cruise cancellations, all washed down with the hope of calm waters ahead and a restart date of May 17 for UK cruising as the maritime minister confirmed domestic sailings can begin at the same time as hospitality resumes.

At the moment, we are plenty of bookings down thanks to the cancellations but nothing new is coming in until these itineraries launch in the next month. They do, however, offer us the hope of some revenue coming in to pay bills – which would be a novelty, and well overdue for us all – and also real incentive to get behind these cruises. The old traditional cruisers are desperate to get on any ship going anywhere, while the domestic restart of cruise is an opportunity close to home for potential new‑to‑cruise customers to give it a go.

Holiday caution

With holidays, the challenge is equally tough. What do you say to someone wanting to book Greece in June? The Simon Calder approach, basically, is that if it’s not operating you can get your money back or move it. True, but what happens if testing is needed at a high cost and the clients don’t want to pay? There’s no money back in that scenario, because the holiday is operating.

Our approach is less cavalier. We are currently suggesting people don’t book their holiday until after April 12, when we hope to have some certainty. Are we mad? Are we missing out? Or are we simply avoiding putting clients in a tough position and having to deal with yet more amendments and cancellations? It’s a very tough call and one that all agents are trying to navigate potential customers through.

Workplace pressures

We are all suffering from the pressure of work with added uncertainty and an inability to fund more staff working. We have to use furlough while it runs and revenue remains at zero. The game changer will be people travelling, and revenue finally starting to arrive – but with no facts around flying programmes for this summer, or confirmed rules for potential travellers, no one can afford to take a punt on adding more staff.

Meanwhile, those working soldier on. I’ve sadly given up any hope of the government having anyone understand the unique challenges our industry faces, from the mental pressure on business owners like me to the pressures on my team at the sharp end, all generating zero income. We have had to learn that no one in government appears to care or understand, while other sectors are the blue-eyed boys for support.

I am so looking forward to April 12, but I still remain nervous after previous false dawns, variants and rising infection rates overseas. We are in the best place we have been in the past 12 months, but we’re not out of the woods yet as the virus continues to surprise and mutate.

After digging in so hard, we so deserve a break, both in our luck in terms of trading, and feeling sand between our toes on a holiday. Keep going, all.