The government has taught us how not to run our businesses, says Aito Specialist Agents chair Gemma Antrobus
Like you, I eagerly awaited the prime minister’s announcement on Easter Monday. Deep down, I knew I would be disappointed. I believed Boris Johnson had taken a wrong turn in terms of giving the travel industry an update on April 5, when originally we had been told we would be hearing from the Global Travel Taskforce on April 12. Yet I still waited with baited breath.
There was barely a mention of our industry, except for the PM saying that he was ‘hopeful’ international travel would resume from May 17, followed by a ‘roadmap review’ that stated: “For the moment, the government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer.”
I think we can all agree that, if Boris and his chums ran our country in the same way we run our businesses, the outlook for the industry would be much rosier. Instead, more than 13 months later, we remain in the dark and unable to plan for the future.
So I’ve decided to look at the lessons we can learn from our government’s failure to work with the travel industry:
1. Know your customer: Before planning an itinerary, it’s essential to get to know exactly what your client wants to achieve from their trip. It helps to save time, and shows your client you are a professional with great knowledge and understanding. Has the government taken the time to get to know the travel industry, to ask us what we need and how we can help? No.
2. Treat your customers well: It’s essential to be courteous in your communications and to make your clients feel you are on their side, working for them to achieve their desired outcome. Many agents send cards when their clients return home; some send wine and flowers. Most importantly, always thank a client for their booking. Has the government treated us courteously? No.
3. Be dependable: This is never more important than when things go wrong. This past year has shown the true value of booking with a fully-bonded and protected travel agent and tour operator. One who is there, no matter what. Has the travel industry been able to depend on the government to provide sector-specific support? No.
4. Let your customers know you: As an independent agent, this is much easier. Small business = large heart. But even in larger travel companies, the feeling of dealing with a single person is possible. We’ve all learnt automation in a crisis isn’t always your friend. Has the government been willing to engage with our industry? No.
5. Be honest (and you can say no): It’s so hard not to try to help every client who calls or visits your office. But sometimes it’s in your best interests (and theirs) to advise that you just can’t help. The client will have more respect for you and your business if you recommend another travel professional who can assist, rather than wasting their time and yours. Also, if you make a mistake, own up to it, apologise and put things right. We’re human, after all, and these things happen. I don’t think I need to ask if our government has been honest with us.
6. Provide consistent and timely information: Manage your client’s expectations and, if you can’t deliver on these, keep them informed. We are more than a year on from the start of the pandemic and still the travel industry is no wiser about the future. Has the government provided timely and consistent information? No.
7. Assess the bigger picture: At the end of the day, you must ask yourself if your clients’ business contributes to the growth of yours. In most circumstances, I would say it does. Our PM should look at how much the UK’s outbound travel industry contributes to the economy and the millions of jobs it supports. It should also consider the value-added revenue our clients spend with other businesses before they travel, and the effect that ignoring us would have on the recovery of our economy.
These are harsh lessons to learn from the failings of our government. And yet, we still hold on for next week’s announcement, and the glimmer of hope it may give to help us plan for the future.