What It’s Really Like to be a Travel Agent During a Global Pandemic
I recently read an article by Ben Groundwater for Traveller.com.au about the lack of support out there for the Australian travel industry amidst this extremely challenging global pandemic.
And since then, I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. What he says is completely true.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve seen an incredible amount of support being given to small local businesses. People going out of their way to order takeaway from their favourite restaurant or café, or supporting their local personal trainer with outdoor sessions. The list goes on.
I am not saying that these workers don’t deserve to be supported wholeheartedly. They absolutely do.
What I am saying though, is what about your local travel agent, or hotelier, or even your friend that is usually a housekeeper or barman in the local hotel. Those people, are perhaps, in much more of a pickle than you ever considered.
I can’t speak on behalf of those guys. But I do believe I can speak on behalf of most travel agents. So, let me tell you what it’s really like to be a travel agent during Covid-19.
We were genuinely worried about getting you home safely when things escalated so quickly…
We all know how quickly Covid-19 became a global issue. It seemed one day it was confined to China, and the next it was popping up all over the place.
Countries begged their citizens to come home, and airlines started dropping services like flies. Not to mention many countries closing their borders, and forbidding non-citizens to even transit through to reach home.
Some airlines were only assisting agents with clients whose date of departure was that day. Needless to say, March 2020, will definitely go down in history as the most stressful months ever to be a travel agent, and certainly one that no agent would like to re-live.
We are stuck between a rock and a hard place…
Just call us piggy in the middle. We know you didn’t choose to cancel your holiday. But neither did we, and neither did the airline who only wants to offer you a credit, instead of a full refund.
Travel agents have their hands tied concerning what options can be provided to the client. Not only does each supplier or airline have different policies relating to Covid-19, but they also change rapidly, and without warning.
Some airline policies are so hard to understand, that I know some agents are just submitting for a credit or refund, and hoping for the best.
“You’re a big company, you’ll survive” …
This statement is something that I know gets thrown around a lot at the moment. Some clients expect a full refund, even if it’s out of the agents pocket, for their trip that has been inevitably cancelled due to Covid-19.
While I understand where this reasoning has come from, it’s simply not true.
While the big fish of the Australian travel industry will survive this crisis, many travel agencies are actually independently run small businesses or affiliates of larger travel companies. This means, we are on our own.
My particular employer is a small business. And I can tell you, if we had to give back 100% of your money, when we aren’t getting that back from the supplier, we would not survive this crisis.
Furthermore, look at what some of our airlines or big travel corporations are facing. They’re bleeding money. They’ve stood down 80% of their workforce to weather the storm, and survive Covid-19.
We answer the same questions almost every day…
We really wish we knew when the international borders would re-open. We wish we knew if there was going to be a mandatory isolation period when international travel restarts.
We also wish we knew why the airline changed its policy for the fifth time, or when it might be extended for future travel dates.
Does anyone really know the answer to these questions right now? I don’t think so.
And yet, we do our best to answer these questions with a smile on a daily basis, because we understand that times are uncertain, and we may be able to provide you with some comfort.
We still love what we do…
Most agents I know, wouldn’t change their job for the world. We get to help our clients travel to amazing destinations, and take pride in the trip going off without a hitch.
So having to completely undo all the work we have put into your dream holiday, while potentially not being able to secure you a refund or future travel credit, as well as managing your concerns and disappointment along the way, is devastating for us too.
So what can you do to help?
Postpone, don’t cancel!
If you’ve got an upcoming trip that you haven’t actioned yet, and you’re in a position to do so, leave the money with the airline, the tour operator or hotel. Leave your deposits with your local travel agent to use towards future travel.
The simple gesture of trusting your local agent to keep your deposit safe, until we can travel again, will mean more than you can know.
We are not asking you to give us a big old pat on the back for doing our jobs. Many clients already show their appreciation to their travel agent.
But for those of you who are still on the fence, we are just asking for a little bit of that love and support, that you’ve been sharing around to other local businesses.
It’s tough out there for all of us, and with no end in sight, we need to stick together! Even once Australia goes back to ‘normal’, the travel industry will be suffering a while longer yet.
But, when the world is ready to travel again, we will still be here to guide you through.