Comment: Travel agents are best at supporting each other

Target co-founders Graeme Brett (Westoe Travel) and Jill Waite (Pole Travel) explain why they launched the new campaign group

We first became friends under tragic circumstances four years ago.

Chloe Rutherord, an apprentice at Westoe Travel, and her boyfriend Liam Curry, lost their lives in the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017.

Westoe Travel launched an appeal to raise money to help the families of Chloe and Liam, and Pole Travel and fellow north west agency Ken Garrity Travel got in touch to help with the fundraising.

Their efforts helped the fundraising campaign reach more than £33,000 for the families.

Support rolled in from hundreds of travel agents based all over the country, most of whom had never met before. It was amazing how much effort fellow agents were prepared to contribute in support of another business in the sector.

The support was totally out of the blue, but it demonstrated how much travel agents want to help each other.

We have kept in touch since then and been sharing our frustrations that travel agents have not been getting the support and leadership we need during the Covid crisis, and indeed for a long time before that.

We discussed the need for a group to represent all travel agents, regardless of whether they were shop based, working in a call centre or homeworkers – and regardless of which consortia or trade body they belonged, whether they are a sole trader, PLC or employee.

We came up with the name Target, which stands for Travel Agents Reform Group Engaged Together, because there needs to be reform across the entire travel industry, and government, to make sure travel agents’ voices are heard and their views acted upon.

We also knew from our own experiences that travel agents are the best at supporting each other.

The existing trade bodies seem preoccupied on pushing their own agendas and not being able to work together with a single message. So we agreed that a separate body to represent all travel agents was needed, and decided to take up the challenge ourselves.

So many agents supported us four years ago that we wanted to be able to repay that support by fighting for all travel agents through Target.

We want to provide a platform for travel agents to share their views, and for us to campaign together for travel agents to be listened to.

Campaigning will call for more government support for every travel agent regardless of their circumstances.

Target will campaign for the various trade bodies to be more representative of the travel industry, and for travel agents to have a greater voice.

Our feedback has been that very few agents feel like the trade bodies fully understand the challenges we face. For example, there was no support from the trade bodies over Business Interruption Insurance.

Every travel agent’s situation is different, and there is the postcode lottery or different grants being offered or refused by each local council.

The one thing all travel agents have in common is that none of us has been adequately compensated or given grants for the loss of business or for the costs we have.

We want to give Travel Agents a voice with government, so are looking to get contact with ministers so they understand our problems, seeking reform of the travel industry so travel agents’ voices are properly represented, looking at ways travel agents’ costs can be reduced and exploring partnerships that could help increase agents’ earning opportunities.

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received so far. More than 1,000 travel agents have joined.

So many private messages of support and encouragement have been received from agents saying that they felt isolated and left without support during the last 14 months.

Campaigning is not going to be easy, and we might not win every battle, but we will not shirk away from anything as there are so many people’s lives and jobs at stake.

More: Target Facebook group

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