Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson says travel agencies are the backbone of many communities

It seems incredible that little over a year ago, we were in the throes of the first lockdown – assuming that we could still all possibly be back in stores and offices by late summer.

How wrong we were. By this May, our entire retail network will be back open and trading – for the first time since March 2020.

When we reopened last summer, we planned a phased approach, opening a handful of stores week-by-week as we risk-assessed the situation. We’d barely reopened half when local lockdowns began to force closures, and we gradually went back to remote working. The last stores closed just before Christmas.


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With the exception of our call centres, which have to remain closed under current restrictions, our whole retail network will be trading in a matter of weeks. Our stores in England reopened from April 12 and our Scottish stores began to open on Monday. Belfast will open on April 30 as non-essential retail restrictions in Northern Ireland are relaxed.

Reopening all our stores this time round has felt like a real milestone. It feels equally as exciting as it does emotional. It’s a big moment, particularly for our colleagues who have been so enthusiastic about getting back to seeing customers face to face.

Overwhelming

The reception that our stores in England have received from their communities has been quite overwhelming. The towns and cities were buzzing with people reuniting with friends, families and loved ones as they met in bars, cafes and restaurants – or hit the high streets.

In store, the buzz and elation continued: doors were swinging and phones ringing. Bookings and enquiries were optimistic and have increased day-by-day. Customers weren’t just coming in or phoning to discuss holiday plans. Many – old and new – were popping in, chatting at the door or ringing the branch just to say ‘hello’ or stopping by to say, ‘welcome back – we’ve missed you!’.

Community spirit

This is why I believe the high street will come back stronger than ever. People believe in community and want to support local businesses, jobs and services that provide human interaction. Travel agencies are the backbone of many communities across the country and a place to head to when you’re planning something special.

People have missed holidays, and missed agents. Go into any hairdressers right now and I guarantee you’ll hear conversations about where people are holidaying and who they’re booking with.

Yes, the next few months will be challenging for our industry. We’re urgently waiting on timelines and guidelines for international travel restarting.

But facts and figures show demand will be high for agents who can help customers digest complex travel advice, provide expertise and offer financial protection. We’re witnessing a rise in demand for advice and for booking with a reputable agent.

We might have been missing from the high street for more than a year in some places, but retail agencies can never be replaced and, with the support of our local communities and loyal customers, are ready to bounce back.


More: Barrhead Travel stores reopen in Scotland

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