Many Britons have long been resigned to the idea that 2020 will be the year they didn’t travel – with family breaks to the Med cancelled, weekend jaunts to European cities put off and far-flung escapes to balmy destinations filed under ‘future reference’.
However, for those who rely on the success of the travel industry for their livelihoods, the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic offers a much bleaker picture, with holiday companies struggling to stay afloat as international travel continues to stall and there’s no sign of a vaccine or comprehensive testing.
Last month, Leceistershire agent Kate Harris went viral after she broke down in tears during an interview with Travel Weekly about applying for jobs to stack supermarket shelves – as the business she’s built up over 20 years teeters on the brink of closing.
Around 60 per cent of professionals in the industry are women, with the majority in lower paid positions. Here, FEMAIL speaks to six UK travel agents who say they feel they’ve been ‘abandoned’ and ‘forgotten’ by the Government – and how the prospect of a devastating second wave is leaving them fearing for their mental health.
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‘Panic attacks are now part of my normal daily routine; my government grant lasted all of seven minutes’
Emma Kayne, 45, runs Kayne Travel in Wath-upon-Dearne, Rotherham. The company had been open for just two years when Covid hit…
Emma Kayne, 45, runs Kayne Travel in Wath-upon-Dearne, Rotherham – her business was just two-years-old when the pandemic struck and she says living with ‘a constant feeling of dread’
‘Covid has ripped out our heart and broken it into pieces. My staff are working bare minimum hours, for bare minimum pay due to issues I’ve had with the furlough system.
‘I am working every hour possible – still for zero pay – in order to ensure my business survives. I’m not sure it will. I am going to try and put it into some kind of semi-hibernation for the winter with a view to coming back all guns blazing when we have a viable industry once more but when that will be, who knows?
Customer confidence has hit an all-time low with people simply not willing to book anything for 2021…
‘The constant feeling of dread is utterly unnerving and I do wonder if I made the right decision opening the business in the first place. I constantly doubt myself and my ability – even though this is no fault of my own. Panic attacks and anxiety are now part of a normal daily routine which has to be managed alongside my household and children.
‘Back in March 2020, people seemed to embrace the initial lockdown period, this was new for everyone and we all wanted to play our part in fighting this horrendous disease.
‘The Government offered to help with the furlough scheme, we closed our shop doors and I continued to run my business alone, working from home.
Emma’s shop in in Wath-upon-Dearne, Rotherham is a community hub, she says, and she’s considering putting it into semi-hibernation to ride out the Covid storm
‘I applied for and received the bounce-back loan and the business grant offered to small businesses.
‘Things weren’t looking so bad around August – we were even thinking of ways we could utilise the bounce-back loan for such things as future marketing campaigns to help our business start to fly again too!
‘How wrong could we have been. My government grant lasted all of seven minutes due to performing refund after refund. My loan is all but depleted having been spent on wages, rent and my consortium subscription for my licences to trade.
‘With no vaccine or airport testing in sight and quarantine measures in place, customer confidence has hit an all-time low with people simply not willing to book anything for 2021.
‘Until then, we watch the news daily with baited breath and wonder if our government has yet recognised the pulverised state of our industry.’
‘My business feels like a river bursting its banks…and some clients have been cruel and rude’
Clare Dudley, 54, owns Ponders Travel in Cambridge. While she’s hopeful she’ll come out the other side, her business has made no money since March 2020
Clare Dudley, 54, owns Ponders Travel in Cambridge; she says by August this year, she felt ‘almost at breaking point’ after months of no income and long hours trying to deal with disappointed holidaymakers
‘The last six months have been anxiety at its highest level, often caused by how cruel and rude some clients have been. We’ve had threats when we’ve not been able to refund as per the ‘normal’ ABTA rule of 14 days.
By early August, I came crashing down and felt very low, almost at breaking point…
‘We’ve lost half the team, and the company has felt like a river bursting its banks. We’ve given refunds to clients and not received any income at all since March 2020 – we’re existing now because we’ve got a government loan.
‘With less staff, I’ve had to work longer hours and cope with the disappointment that we know cancelled holidays cause.
‘On a personal level, I became overtired because I couldn’t sleep and, by early August, I came crashing down and felt very low, almost at breaking point.
Thankfully, I’ve found some solace in mindfulness and have managed to find the drive and positivity needed to carry on.
‘We are now once again believing people want to travel, they want to look forward to things… and I am more determined than ever to get through to the other side.’
‘It’s heartbreaking. We’re using money we put away for retirement to pay staff wages and bills…‘
Jo Dooey, 55, is the owner of Love to Travel, a three-branch travel agency based in Lanarkshire, Scotland
‘It’s time someone listened to our plight’ Jo Dooey, 55, has three agencies in Lanarkshire, Scotland – she says there hasn’t been enough support for the travel industry
‘After over 30 years working in the industry, I thought I had seen the toughest of times in travel; with the Icelandic ash cloud, the Gulf War and the threat of various pandemics… but nothing has prepared me for this.
‘At 55, I have never experienced working so hard for absolutely nothing; our sector works to a very different business model to any other retail business, we only make commission when customers travel. If their trip is cancelled, we have to refund all of the commission we make, which means we’re doing lots of work for no income at all.
Jo says she’s had seven months with no income since lockdown began in late March
‘There isn’t enough support for travel agents; I have seen lots of people really struggling to come to terms with years spent working hard to build a viable, successful business and it’s heartbreaking that they’re having to close their doors for good.
‘I worry about the mental health of friends and colleagues in the industry as there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel for us; we feel we have been fighting constantly for help but we are not being heard.
‘Lots of agencies, including my own, have had to make people redundant.
‘Very few businesses could survive for seven months with no income at all – and yet still be expected to pay salaries and bills, using money put by for retirement.
‘People need that assurance that travel will return and we will learn to travel safely. In Scotland alone, there’s 26,000 people who work in the travel industry – it’s time someone listened to our plight.’
‘I can’t sleep at night. We’ve had to halve our staff and refund £800,000…’
Jeanne Lally, 64, owns Travel Bureau in Gosforth, Newcastle, where she’s been Managing Director since 2008
Jeanne Lally, 64, from Gosforth, Newcastle, says her takings are down by 90 per cent
‘Our business has had to reduce the team from 14 full-time roles to just seven.
‘Turnover for this period is down by 90 per cent compared to normal and we’ve had to refund £800,000 including earnings and reserves.
‘Initially, we didn’t furlough all staff but kept a team working to ensure customers could contact us and we took ownership of the process with airlines/tour operators to process refunds.
‘I’ve suffered fatigue, caused by anger and frustration at the current situation, alongside frequent insomnia at what the future holds.’
‘I’m putting on a brave face…but we’re trading at a huge loss every month’
Claire Moore, 43, is Managing Director of award-winning agency Peakes Travel Elite in Shrewsbury
Claire Moore, 43, runs Peakes Travel Elite in Shrewsbury, which was named Agency of the year for the UK and Ireland in 2019. While determined to continue, she says she’s seriously considered closing her business in recent months
‘We were a very successful agency with a team of 14; last year voted agency of the year for the UK and Ireland.
‘Initially we furloughed 80 per cent of the team. I have now lost 50 per cent of my team through redundancy, I have 25 per cent working and the remaining 25 per cent still furloughed.
‘By June 30th, we had lost our retained profit of £120,000 and we continue to trade at a huge loss each month. We have used all government initiatives but it is simply not enough. I have many customers who want to travel but are too nervous with the constant uncertaint around quarantine restrictions.
‘I have to put on a brave face every day to inspire confidence in my (now much smaller) team and customers. The personal toll this overwhelming responsibility has taken is huge.
Happier times: winning agency of the year in 2019; Claire, right, says she’s ‘not sure anyone outside of travel can appreciate the horrendous blow we have been dealt’
‘A particular low was going through the redundancy consultation process with my team, all of whom were individually excellent.
‘I am very lucky to have an excellent support network of friends and family but am not sure anyone outside of travel can appreciate the horrendous blow we have been dealt. There are many times I have seriously considered closing the door for good, as I felt that stepping away was the only way I could improve my mental health.
‘I am too determined to consider this for too long, the responsibility I have to staff and customers is what keeps me going. However, it doesn’t pay the bills.’
‘I feel like we’ve been totally forgotten in this pandemic…’
Jenny Jackson, 67, runs Luxury Travel Guru, working for Classic Travel of Loughton, from her home in Crystal Palace
‘As a very successful agent with over 25 years experience, it breaks my heart seeing our industry torn apart. Thousands of amazing travel agents, many who have worked in the industry for decades and know nothing else are losing their jobs.
‘After two brain aneurysms in December last year, I should have taken six months off to recover but I worked in January and February to fulfil my clients’ requests for 2020 summer holidays.
Jenny Jackson, 67, says she’s earned nothing since December last year after advance payments had to be given back in refunds
‘When the impact of the pandemic hit in mid March, I was so busy cancelling over 300 holidays, the stress set my recovery back and I started getting really bad headaches and panic attacks.
‘I live alone and this was particularly frightening for me, but I wasn’t going to give up on my clients and constantly keep them up to date as I battle to get their refunds or to re-book their holidays for 2021.
‘I run a closed Facebook group ‘Travel Agent Rants & Raves’ and daily we hear from distraught people pouring their hearts out. The impact on mental health within the travel industry has been huge, and we still cannot see light at the end of the tunnel.
‘I feel like we’ve been totally forgotten, we have been viewed as ‘the bad guys’ throughout the pandemic, when all we want is some much-needed support and recognition for the thousands of hours we have worked for nothing.
‘I have heard of agents being verbally abused to tears on a daily basis, by clients demanding refunds within 14 days, and sadly, consumer experts like Martin Lewis and Simon Calder certainly haven’t helped the situation. At no stage has anyone spoken out and made the public aware of the challenging time we’re experiencing.
‘The government have not realised or even considered how the travel industry has been so badly affected, no other industry has had to refund billions AND lose bookings.
‘We feel totally abandoned and every day we fight to survive. In March, advance payments for travel in April and May were clawed back off me to enable my clients to receive their full refunds. I have earned nothing since December 2019.’
The Association of Women Travel Agents and Advantage Travel Partnership will host a Weekly Open Forum starting on Friday 16th October at 1pm offering industry support. For more information, email: [email protected]
How Covid has crushed 2020 travel plans – leaving many holiday companies facing a bleak winter…
The travel industry has faced plenty of adversity before 2020, with terrorism, economic downturns and the previous threat of pandemics – including the 2003 SARS outbreak – all impacting travel agents and tour operators in the past.
However, most would agree that the 2020 coronavirus pandemic is the biggest single blow ever dealt to the industry… with quarantine, a fear of the virus spreading on planes and in airports, and the promise of a second wave this winter already proving the death knell for some smaller operators.
In the UK, while the summer saw a chance for the staycation market to bounce back from the wiped-out Easter and May holidays, Boris Johnson’s rule of six – and the likelihood of even tougher restrictions coming soon – has ensured that many British hotels and self-catering properties are preparing for huge losses over the winter.
The travel industry faces its toughest ever winter, with the threat of a second wave likely to further deter people from booking holidays
For companies who rely on overseas operations, including airlines, the picture looks even bleaker, with countries on the ‘travel corridor’ list changing frequently, meaning there’s little certainty for holidaymakers who might ordinarily break for the sun.
Last month, the general secretary of the TSSA trade union, Manuel Cortes, made an impassioned plea for the Government to do more to save the beleaguered holiday industry, with an upturn in fortunes now looking increasingly unlikely until at least Spring 2021.
He told this year’s Institute of Travel and Tourism virtual conference: ‘I am saying that no stone should be left unturned to support our industry. At the moment we are seeing nothing really [from government].
‘Whenever this virus is conquered we will all need a well-deserved holiday and sadly if the government doesn’t take measures to preserve our industry we will not have an industry.
‘In the short term, the industry cannot compete. What we need is the government to step in and hold the industry’s hand so we can emerge stronger than before.
‘It has done so in the past for the banking sector, why can’t it do the same for the travel trade?’
UK TRAVEL CORRIDORS: WHERE CAN YOU CURRENTLY HOLIDAY WITHOUT QUARANTINE?
Antigua and Barbuda
Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba
British Indian Ocean Territory
British Virgin Islands
The Channel Islands
Greece (except the islands of Crete and Mykonos – if you arrive in England from these islands you will need to self-isolate. If you arrived in England from the islands of Lesvos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos or Zakynthos before 4am 10 October 2020 you will need to self-isolate
The Isle of Man
St Kitts and Nevis
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Information correct on 14/10/20