Comment: Travel agents need to write their own roadmaps

Don’t bank on Boris to do it for you, says Aito Specialist Agents chair Gemma Antrobus

As I sit here in early February, the snow is falling outside. Usually, snow during ‘peaks’ is my worst nightmare. Trying to juggle the opening of a retail shop, as well as ensuring my staff travel to and from work safely, always fills me with dread. Thankfully, that’s the least of my worries this week.

We are now only two weeks from the prime minister’s next statement regarding the ‘roadmap’ forward – that’s February 22 for those of you who don’t have the date in your diary.

We’re told the plan to lift lockdown will be given on this date, so I’m expecting to hear definitive news about the reopening of schools. I’m not convinced all school-aged children will go back on March 8 but I sincerely hope they will. I hope we will also hear about how and when we can next see our loved ones and when we’ll be allowed to hug again.

What I don’t expect to hear, however, is anything coherent, helpful or valuable that will aid the travel industry. Grant Shapps hinted as much last week. While many British industries will have Ordnance Survey-style maps to guide them through, the travel industry’s won’t even be drawn on the back of a cigarette packet.

Year of neglect

And why would we expect anything more? It has been a year now of complete contempt and neglect. A token ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ was created without input from the travel industry and has been silent since its November report.

What we have had is the lucky dip, or hokey-cokey, of travel corridors that whipped everyone into a frenzy; last-minute lockdowns; and, most recently, an advertising campaign telling the public that “going on holiday is currently ILLEGAL”.

You’d be forgiven for thinking our government didn’t need the £37 billion in gross added value that the outbound travel sector contributes to the exchequer. Right now, I’d have thought they needed every penny.

With this in mind, I’ve written my own roadmap to try to keep some semblance of sanity – in my brain, at least. Like many travel industry business leaders, I’ve written my ‘what if’ plan more times than I’d like to admit.

Approximately this time last year, I had cruise passengers floating around the South China Sea not allowed to dock for two weeks (Covid-related, but no Covid on the ship, thankfully). It was very early days, but I could see things were changing across the world. Admittedly, I didn’t appreciate the gravitas of what would unfold but, a year later, if I’ve learnt one thing it’s this: you have to write your own roadmap – don’t wait for the government.

Survey of clients

All Aito agents and tour operators have had the opportunity to quiz their clients by sending them a Travel Insights survey to fill in over the past month. This has been done for the past five years as part of membership. My business has sent out the survey every year, and the results are fascinating.

The survey is not about hearing from our clients how lovely they think we all are, although that’s always nice. It’s about hearing their thoughts on travel, how they like to be communicated with, what influences them to travel, how often they plan to do so, how much they will spend, and so on.

It has helped me shape my roadmap. Right now, most of my clients say they will take the same amount of holidays as before Covid – marvellous. They’re telling me short-haul will be their primary focus, with long-haul second – well, that’s positive. My clients like to be communicated with by email, rather than social media – note taken. They’re also telling me they will spend the same amount, or more, than pre-Covid on their holidays – exciting!

I expect I’ll still be working from my home office for at least another month (probably longer). But, in my head, from April onwards, my roadmap begins.

Talk to your clients about their thoughts on travel and let them help you plan your roadmap.

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