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Comment: Travel agents are in the eye of the perfect storm

There has never been a more important period in this pandemic, says the Travel Village Group owner Phil Nuttall

When I stand on the bridge at the Travel Village Group and look back over the last 17 months it most certainly isn’t pretty.

In fact, whichever way you dress it up, there’s very little to be positive about in the travel industry.

Even as we start to navigate our journeys into calmer waters we are now faced with sailing through the perfect storm to get there and once again there’s going to be very few winners in the short-term.

You see, last year many travel businesses were forced or took the decision to make redundancies and scale down their operation.

Getting experienced and reliable travel people has been a challenge in recent times and there’s no doubt we’ve lost many more who have now moved away from the sector.

The lack of funding, especially for travel agents, is a double-edged sword that is now fuelling the perfect storm in the same way the warm waters of the south Atlantic fuel a hurricane.

Forced to make cuts in personnel has been essential to keep businesses afloat, but this has put added pressure on those who have remained and the owners of these businesses who have been working 14 hours a day seven days a week.

Those in administrative roles have been buried in emails, red tape and irregularities in administrative and financial communication.

Those in sales, especially those self-employed have seen salaries disappear and had to endure countless phone calls and email aggravation from some guests who have been waiting several months for refunds to be applied or correct documentation to be sent to them.

The news from the government that amber destinations are now accessible is welcome but is now the final catalyst in bringing the ‘perfect storm’ one step closer.

We as travel agents have reduced staffing levels, we are still working through thousands of administrative issues, continued cancellations through 2021 and into early 2022 and our inboxes are starting to fill up with new bookings.

We need our salespeople to sell because without sales we cannot support the business and the jobs in the other key areas.

So we cannot push booking queries back to sales people yet we do not have the capacity to deal with the continuing and growing inbox of queries, cancellations, a plethora of revised policies and new bookings.

Without a shadow of doubt there has never been a more important period in this pandemic for travel agents than now.

Trying to strike the balance, steer the ship head on into the ‘perfect storm’ is the only answer if we are to come through the other side.

We cannot seek shelter in port, we have to keep going and we must make sure our guests are communicated with the facts so that their expectations can be managed.

But we need financial assistance and new reliable and experienced crew to fix our battered and bruised travel businesses in order to provide the standards of service our guests deserve and expect.

Hang in there, batten down the hatches and together we will get there.

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