There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but 2021 bookings and staffing issues are still a challenge, says Ponders Travel managing director Clare Dudley.

Comedian Tommy Cooper once said “I used to be indecisive, but I’m not quite sure now”.

I know how he feels. Isn’t everything at the moment all so full of if, when and how?

Clients are ready to book, clients want to book and clients have the money to book, but the current world status isn’t really encouraging them to book with confidence.

We are happily taking 2022 bookings, but 2021 is a different ball game altogether.

“Most operators are used to amendments and have teams dedicated to admin or trained reservations teams to cope.”

We’ve decided to sell 2021 only if the client wants to book, but we are not actively promoting departures this year and have put all our energy into the future.

Don’t get me wrong, the light at the end of the tunnel is close and we have a new mantra of ‘positive Ponders’. However, we’re finding a few challenges that I’m sure you are all experiencing too that simply make life a bit bizarre.

Here we are in March 2021 and we’ve been changing and cancelling clients’ holidays now for over a year: sometimes once, for many twice, and for a few it could have been three or four times!

It’s been far simpler to make the changes this year, compared to 2020; most operators are used to amendments and have teams dedicated to admin or trained reservations teams to cope. We’ve all knuckled down and just got on with what needs to be done.

Dilemma

However, we are still facing some challenges. I’m finding that, quite regularly, admin seems to be taking preference to sales. Comments along the lines of “we don’t have enough sales staff at the moment” seem to be quite regular. Continuity is also proving difficult as many staff are still on reduced hours due to furlough, so you don’t seem to be able to speak to the same person at a supplier on a regular basis.

“Continuity is also proving difficult as many staff are still on reduced hours, so you don’t seem to be able to speak to the same person on a regular basis.”

I empathise with tour operators, I really do. As a business owner myself, I still have all the team on a four-day week, using the furlough scheme as it makes financial sense.

However, each week I feel like if we had the team back to full-time, it really would make life a lot easier. What is the best thing to do?

2023 holidays

We’re also finding we need more 2022 and, if possible, 2023 holidays on sale, with pricing too. With what the world has been through, the trend is definitely to book further ahead to have something really rather special to look forward to. So we need more tour operators to be able to package further in advance.

This point is raised regularly in the trade, with people posting on Facebook asking “who can help me with 2022 and 2023?”.

“I’m a little worried that sales are not being given enough priority. We need to get the balance right, but sales have to be prioritised.”

For example, we have a wedding party wanting to book for February 2023, but it’s too early. Weddings are now booked more and more in advance, and we need to be proactive. Venues in the UK can do it, so why can’t we?

This is not by any means a criticism, as we are in a similar situation. But I’m a little worried that sales are not being given enough priority. We need to get the balance right, but sales have to be prioritised. But I suppose suppliers are trying to answer the ifs, whens and hows as well.


SHUTTERSTOCK-Venice

Remind clients of your value

I have had three quotes recently for tailor-made trips that are so much cheaper with larger companies. My first reaction on receipt of the cheaper quotes is panic. But I’ve learnt that the best thing is to trust your intuition, and have the confidence that your quote is worth the extra.

One was a three-night luxury stay in Venice followed by a Silversea cruise. It quoted £4,999, our price was £5,498. Clients value loyalty and good service, and right now want to book with someone they trust. So don’t just send your quotes via email, call your customers and chat through everything. Remind them why you are the right place for them to book their travels, and how much you will look after them. Tell yourself you’ve got this, and you are worth it.