We’ve had a strong month and reopened our store, but travel can’t endure another summer of confusion, says Swords Travel co-director Mark Swords.

We’ve just come out of our strongest-ever sales month since launching the business five years ago.

As amazing as this uptick is, especially after such a tough year, it doesn’t mean anything until this materialises into people getting on board planes and travelling on their holidays.

I love the feeling of getting a client booked to go on holiday and basking in the excitement, but unfortunately at the moment a lot of that excitement is tainted with hesitation, uncertainty and a load of questions we simply can’t answer.

“As long as you’re booking with a reputable operator that has a good record of refunding your clients, agents should have nothing to fear.”

Like most businesses, forward business for 2022-23 is strong, but we’ve also seen some really good enquiries and bookings coming in for this summer too.

The introduction of flexible policies from many operators has made a huge difference. With my own clients, a lot of the initial enquiry is discussing the flexibility and confidence to book. Flexible policies certainly seem to have overcome some barriers. And really, as long as you’re booking with a reputable operator that has a good record of refunding your clients, agents should have nothing to fear.

Disloyal operators

The one part of the business that has hugely increased, of course, is interest in UK products. As an agent we are limited to the products we can sell, but have always supported certain UK operators with bookings.

Recently, though, one thing has really annoyed me. Why is it that direct-sell but also ‘agent-friendly’ UK operators, as soon as they see increased demand for their product, regard it as an opportunity to reduce their agent commissions and offer lower deposits to clients direct?

“As an agent we are limited to the products we can sell, but have always supported certain UK operators with bookings.”

This sends such a bad message to agent partners and shows an extreme lack of loyalty. In times like this, these operators really should support their travel agent partners.

They may get a nice increase in direct bookings for the next 12-18 months, but as soon as that starts to dry up, are they then going to revert back to working with agents? It’s a really poor show and I hope these companies see the error of their ways before it’s too late.

Unclear outlook

As I write this article, we’ve just been given the long-anticipated Easter Monday update by Boris Johnson regarding plans to restart international travel. There basically is no update, and we are all still left guessing what the government’s plan will be to restart international travel. There is so much speculation, and I hope that by the time you read this the government’s Global Travel Taskforce will have given us some much needed clarity.

“At the moment, the best advice is to have as many back-up plans as you can, and hold tight for summer – I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

One thing is for sure, however: we cannot have a repeat of last year, with all the chopping and changing of destinations being on and off travel corridors. If that happens again, there will be so many businesses that just won’t be able to survive.

As a team, we have a weekly call on which we try to plan to the best of our ability. But, realistically, how can you prepare with such mixed messaging? At the moment, the best advice is to have as many back-up plans as you can, and hold tight for summer – I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


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We’re reopening all guns blazing

As I write this, April 12 is nearly here and we’ve had the green light for nonessential retail to open. It will be interesting to see how many agents decide to open their doors straight away. Maybe some will hang fire until we have a proper plan? We’ve decided to bite the bullet and go out all guns blazing. We’ve been working hard to make the store look fresh and ready for reopening. There’s something exciting about reopening, and life starting to resume. Let’s just hope this is the last time we have to do a store reopening from lockdown!