Travel agents look ahead to the positives as Covid crisis continues

The freedom jet off on holiday feels a very long way away as we head into a winter second wave.

LAST COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR JAMIE RICKETTS 13/10/2020 - Travel Agency - The Travelwallet in Bridgnorth for story on how they have been coping amid the pandemic. In Picture: Owner Maggie Rogers..
LAST COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR JAMIE RICKETTS 13/10/2020 - Travel Agency - The Travelwallet in Bridgnorth for story on how they have been coping amid the pandemic. In Picture: Owner Maggie Rogers..

Right now, the holiday industry should be gearing up for a rush as people look ahead to the summer of 2021.

The truth is that nobody knows if anything booked now will end up becoming a reality.

The situation hasn't been helped by the confusion and chaos that surrounded this year's lockdown.

Thousands of flights have been cancelled this year and some travellers have struggled to get refunds from airlines amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some operators have mothballed their aircraft, some have disappeared completely.

It is a worrying time, not least for the travel agents who have to make sense of the situation and advise customers om the best course of action.

The life of the travel agents has been disrupted more than most by the outbreak of Covid-19, with fears holiday-makers have lost confidence in the concept of going abroad in the midst of our ever-changing coronavirus guidelines.

But firms say there are still signs of positivity looking ahead. People are looking for something to look forward to. They are rebooking flights for the years 2021 and 2022 after writing off their holidays in 2020.

At The Travelwallet in Bridgnorth, its managing director Maggie Rogers, said most customers have chosen to have refunds on cancelled flights but some have chosen to move their holidays to 2021.

The firm, who Ms Rogers says is the only travel agent left operating in Bridgnorth, caters for clients across Shropshire.

"The hard thing for us is that we get paid a commission by tour operators for booking holidays," she said.

"But when customers chose to get refunds, we have to refund our commission as well. It is like giving last year's profits back."

She said trade picked up in the summer but the ever-changing of coronavirus restrictions by the Government is knocking people's confidence in travelling.

Ms Rogers says she has been in the travel industry for 40 years but has "never been in a situation like this".

But despite the difficult trading conditions, she has vowed her company will stay open and staff will continue working hard for their clients.

At Hays Travel in the West Midlands town of Oldbury, manager Hayley Gulliver has an optimistic outlook for the trade.

She said: "All flights booked with us were cancelled after we went into lockdown in March but we started taking bookings again in July.

"Most of them – between 300 to 400 – have rebooked for the next year or so but I would say 20 per cent have rebooked for 2022.

"There has been a lot of disruption for people but we have been able to help them out."

The independent firm, based in Sunderland, took over from Thomas Cook after its demise, just in time for the pandemic. But it is talking up the business, saying it is bringing forward the launch of its 2022 offers on flights early due to an expected rise in demand for holidays.

At ACE Travel & Money Transfer, based in Tividale, the store's manager Basharat Khan says a lot of customers, who have flown out to Pakistan, have struggled getting refunds when flights have been cancelled.

He said: "We have had loads of complaints. My business is mainly to Pakistan and passengers travelling on Pakistani International Airlines.

"When flights are cancelled, the one reason has been because of Covid-19, while the second is European countries putting a ban on their flights.

"So, say someone paid £800 for a return flight from Birmingham. They did one leg of the journey ,but they couldn't bring the passengers back.

"They said you will have to rebook a ticket and get them refunded when you get back to the UK.

"But a lot of customers, who paid a lot of money to come back here on a one-way flight from Pakistan, have only been refunded £70 to £80."

The hopes of the travel industry lie, like the rest of us, in a vaccine that can reduce the crisis to an extent that people can book with total confidence once again.

The Travel Association, which represents travel agents, has called on the Government to step in now and help the trade.

A spokesman said: "The Chancellor's announcement of an expanded version of the Job Support Scheme to support businesses required to close due to local lockdowns does little for the UK's £60bn travel industry, or the close to one million people who work in the sector.

"For almost eight months the travel industry has been hampered by the global advisory against all but essential travel, ever-changing quarantine rules and the failure of the Government to introduce a testing regime which would help to reopen many destinations.

"The announcement of a Global Travel Taskforce is recognition of the difficulties facing businesses across the travel industry.

"However, we cannot afford to wait weeks for additional help. It is vital that the Government acts fast to help struggling travel businesses, and their staff.

"Without additional support we will see further job losses in travel over the weeks ahead, in addition to the more than 100,000 roles that have already been lost or at risk as a result of the crisis."

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