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Agent Diary: ‘Customers are now more confused and uncertain than ever’

The first green travel list is deeply disappointing but I guess it’s sensible to be very cautious, says Hays Travel’s Washington branch manager Colin Burns.

I was walking past my favourite gentleman’s outfitters the other day and saw something I thought would be perfect for me – a pair of mauve Crimplene slacks, a yellow satin shirt and a lovely bottle-green jacket with just the right number of sequins on it. So I popped in to see if they had my size.

The assistant went to check the stock. When he returned, he said: “Well, we have them all available but, I’m sorry, sir, as the slacks are currently on the government’s red list for clothing, I’m not allowed to sell you them at all.

“Since non-essential retail was allowed to reopen in April, our sector must be one of very few which still cannot trade properly.”

“The jacket, however, is on the amber list, so I can sell it to you as long as you quarantine after you wear it. And the shirt…yes! The shirt is on the green list, so you can buy it and wear it whenever you like, just as long as you purchase one of our Covid-19 PCR test kits as well.”

OK, this is a really silly analogy.

But, imagine if other retailers had to abide by the same rules as travel agents! Since non-essential retail was allowed to reopen in April, our sector must be one of very few which still cannot trade properly.

From mud to mire

The government’s last traffic light announcement wasn’t just disappointing in terms of the lack of places on the green list. It took us from the muddy puddle we were already in to a mire where a herd of cows had been living for the past year.

Customers are now more confused and uncertain than ever.

We’re getting a lot of customers due to travel in July and August who are so concerned about their trips they have already postponed until 2022. Others are just fed up and determined to go on holiday no matter what it takes.

“Once I’d advised him that Hays Travel and some test suppliers have agreed lower costs, and the process of getting them was being simplified, he booked.”

One guy who came in to book Portugal for the end of May had assumed it would be a straightforward booking as both he and his partner had had both jabs and the country is on the green list. When I explained Covid tests would still be required, he almost cried.

Thankfully, once I’d advised him that Hays Travel and some test suppliers have agreed lower costs, and the process of getting them was being simplified, he booked before I needed to get the tissues.

 

Cautious approach

Having said all this, would it have been right to have included more major destinations on the green list if it really was not safe to do so?

I’m neither a politician nor a scientist, so have to trust those who are. Yes, the suffering felt in our industry over the past year could have been relieved overnight. But just imagine if that led to an increase in Covid cases, further lockdowns or restrictions, we could easily have ended up back at square one.

“The suffering felt in our industry over the past year could have been relieved overnight. But just imagine if that led to an increase in Covid cases, further lockdowns or restrictions.”

In the same way many agents have taken a cautious approach to reopening, maybe the current cautious approach to reopening destinations is the sensible thing to do.

By the time I write again, we will have had at least one update from Boris, so let’s hope by then we will have a longer list of green destinations and can give our customers what many of them so desperately want.

And for my sake, let’s hope no clothing traffic light system is introduced, so I can get my new outfit in time for my youngest daughter’s 21st birthday party at the end of May!


Marella explorer 2
Pictured: Marella Explorer 2

Marella to the rescue 

I mentioned how some customers are determined to get away and Talia had a great example recently. Not long after we’d reopened, a couple came in and booked a Fred Olsen cruise. Ten days later, it was cancelled. The couple came back in to see what else was available and Talia found them a couple of other cruises on Fred’s system that the couple were happy with and called to do the switch.

While on the phone, she was told that both chosen itineraries had also been cancelled.

The disappointment on the customers’ faces was so sad to see. “There must be something,” they said. Sure enough, we soon found them a great itinerary on Marella Explorer 2.

They liked it, booked it – and almost skipped out of the shop!

Bookings like this help to make it all worthwhile.

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