Aito firms advised to restart business with ‘blank piece of paper’

Aito companies have been urged to start from scratch with a ‘blank piece of paper’ to future-proof their businesses as they emerge from the impacts of the pandemic.

Operators and agents were told to cut costs and make a succession plan to ensure the long-term health of their companies.

The advice came as Aito companies admitted the pandemic had effectively forced them to become start-ups again.

Dragoman director Charlie Hopkinson, who mothballed his tour operation during Covid, said: “We are going to have to restart our business, aged 60. We’ve become a start-up because we are doing everything we did aged 25. The energy levels you need are huge. It’s a massive challenge for lots of businesses.”

Westway Travel managing director Ian Prior hoped experience would count in the recovery. “We have got 40 years’ worth of experience behind us and we can make decisions and ‘make hay’ much easier,” he added.

Chris Thompson, director of consultancy The Firebird Partnership, said the ‘start up mentality’ of many Aito companies was one “we see a lot”.

He urged members to think about what they wanted from their business in future. “You need to start with a blank piece of paper. Succession planning is important. Make sure you are creating a robust strategy with longevity. There is an opportunity, if you have cut costs from the business, to take a fresh look at it,” he said.

Travel Trade Consultancy director Matt Purser outlined two stages for businesses to bear in mind to survive: keeping the regulators happy and making changes to keep the business “cash positive”.

Meanwhile, panellists were reluctant to comment on whether failures would result from the new variant.

Elman Wall managing director Jonathan Wall admitted: “Omicron could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some but for others it will not be. None of us have got crystal balls.”

But Thompson conceded: “The winter season is difficult. People are hitting balance payment dates and cancelling.”

He advised companies to minimise exposure and “keep talking to people and safeguarding bookings”.

Julie Jones, development director, The Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust (Abtot), said insurers would look at members’ “overall risk”.

“There is not one best way to trade. Many have had to hibernate their businesses and we’ve seen evidence of that with lapsed policies,” she said.

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