I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a while now. But I was worried it wouldn’t fit the aesthetic of my blog, or people wouldn’t resonate with it. However, I think it will probably be one of the most important things I write about this year. So how could I not address it?
With everything going on in the world right now (COVID 19 & BLM Protests worldwide) travel has taken a global backseat for the first time. Ever. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that I don’t see planes in the sky, the airport that I live less than five minutes away from is empty, the planes have been parked up for months and I haven’t even thought about getting a train to London since March, something I would have done on a regular basis before.
The travel/tourism and aviation industry are undoubtedly the most heavily affected industries in the world by all of this. Massive global companies have had too heavily reduce staff to have any hope of survival, we have seen tour operators, airlines and hotel chains collapse because of this. And the scary thought is, the travel industry as we once knew it may never ever be the same again.
(Before I start, I mention travel agents specifically a lot in this Blog Post. However I wanted to write this, for all affected members of the travel world. No matter what your current or future position is. By helping to save the travel industry, we are helping a much bigger picture than just the agents who book the travel.)
If you’re a similar age to me, I would expect your childhood memories of booking a holiday would be somewhat similar to mine. I grew up in a family of four, we certainly weren’t “rich” growing up, but both of my parents worked their butts off to ensure my brother and I would never go without. And luckily for us this did mean going on a couple of holidays a year. We never ventured out of Europe as a family, long haul never really seemed like an option for us. So the booking process for most of these amazing holidays looked very similar each time.
Hitting the High Street.
We would go into town on a Saturday morning. Usually early so we could do it before my gymnastics training started. We’d go to Flight Centre, Thomas Cook, First Choice & Thomson stores. (Before the days of TUI, these were the four travel agencies in my town). We would chose brochures off the shelf, to take home and look through as a family (I remember even back then, seeing photos of America and Australia used to get me so excited at the thought of one day being able to fly to these places!) Obviously mum and dad had a better way of picking the holidays, but we would all go through them, us “kids” usually picking out the hotels with the best looking swimming pools. Mum throwing out all of the options with high rise hotels (a preference she has certainly passed down onto me) and Dad just trying to find the quickest flight for us all. Less time in the air for him the better.
(Photo Source; Crawley Observer – SUS-190925-110823001)
We would then go back into the travel agencies. Speak to the lovely staff members behind the desk, I used to watch them tap away in their weird code wondering how on earth they understood the screen they were looking at. Let alone find a price for something that was in a book. (Little did I know that weird code would become my daily language in later life). They would build up the excitement. Someone in the store had ALWAYS been to that exact hotel me and my family wanted to go to. Which used to make us all more excited knowing someone first hand had confirmed how amazing it would be. (Remember these were the days before TripAdvisor and online reviews!) And then we would book it. There and then. In the shop with the travel agent. We would leave all feeling SO excited at the prospect of going to Lanzarote again, or back to Cyprus, or even trying out a new country such as Portugal. That was always the best feeling.
(Photo Source: By Jill Wellington from Pixabay)
Fast Forward To Today.
The high streets already looked very different, even before a global pandemic. With the collapse of Thomas Cook in 2019 and more and more travel agencies moving online. The world of booking travel has already changed. Throw into the mix price comparison websites, third party sellers and people… well people just being people using the internet to try and find the best deal out there, not knowing who they are booking it with. The travel agency stores that do remain, are rarely filled with customers or the same excitement that once filled these shops. They now give off something a little sad, something that makes people feel that deep down these shops won’t be around forever.
The Year That Was 2020.
Isn’t it funny that we are already talking about 2020 as if it is in the past. The amount of people who want to see the back of this year already is scary. It’s June, we still have six months to try and claw something back of what has quite frankly been a bit of write off for most. Millions of people across the world have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and many of those people have had holidays of a life time cancelled, flights cancelled, and major life events such as weddings have had to be rescheduled. I get it. People are going to be angry, they’re going to be frustrated that they won’t get the one thing this year they have been saving up for and looking forward to. I understand that many, many people are still waiting for refunds from some of these companies (I understand because I am one of them).
But off the back of all of this frustration, I want to reiterate to everyone reading this how incredibly important it is that we do not let these companies be forgotten about. We cannot let them disappear from our high streets completely. We shouldn’t think that booking with third party suppliers on the internet will give us the best alternative to a travel agency. Our children, and our children’s children deserve to have the same memories of booking a holiday, feeling the excitement from the travel agent, knowing that they are in good, capable and trustworthy hands that they are bookings the right thing. And even discovering the same passion for travel that I got from being involved in the process as a young child, and having these conversations with the travel agents in these stores. Obviously it is 2020, the whole wide world is online, and so are all of these agencies. There is absolutely nothing stopping you booking a package online, or finding the right flight with them. But it will still be supporting these companies, the people that work for them and their future in the travel industry.
Saving the Travel Industry
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Refunds, future travel vouchers and re-booking for a later date. A standard cancelled airline ticket, on a regular good month can take anything from a few days to six weeks to be refunded by the airline, back to the travel agency and then back to the customers card. I cannot even comprehend or begin to imagine the volume of cancelled flights and refund requests that flooded in from every single travel agency, travel management company, tour operator, cruise lines, online bookings, third party bookings… (you get the picture). They were in their hundreds of thousands. Something that no one in their right mind could ever have the staffing or the man power to ever be able to handle that many requests and adhere to the regular refund time scale. Understandably everyone is going through a tough time right now, and extra money would be so appreciated, and I really can’t speak for every company/airline out there, but I promise you. The good ones, (the reliable ones, the high street known names) they are not holding onto your money or refusing refunds. It is just taking a bit longer to process and to actually get the funds back from the source. That’s all.
Lots of companies offered future travel vouchers for the full value of that flight or that holiday. And again, to put it quite simply. This is to save these companies from going under completely and to ensure we don’t lose them from our skies forever. So if you have opted for a future travel voucher on any of your flights, or holidays, from someone who works in the travel industry. Thank you.
Many have also really relaxed their re-booking rules, and have introduced flexible booking terms. Which means, if you do book something and wanted to re-book it. They have made it much easier to do this without having to pay out a huge supplement. Again, I cannot talk for everyone, but this is what most reputable companies/airlines will offer.
I also hope by now, that if you have been affected by the curse of Covid, that you appreciate the importance of ABTA and ATOL protected holiday’s. For those that are still unsure.
What is ABTA protection?
ABTA protection means that if your travel company goes out of business, you will be entitled to a refund which includes hotel costs. If you are abroad, your transport home will be covered.
What is ATOL protection?
An Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) protects you from losing your money or being stranded abroad. Travel firms selling air holiday packages must have an ATOL and must issue a certificate to you to prove that protection is in place. … This provides money to protect customers.
You have read it here in black and white. Your protection COMES from booking with a travel agency. Third party sellers will not offer this. Meaning you are going to fork out hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds to an online source, with absolutely no protection what so ever.
I would really like to think that people during this pandemic have appreciated having their travel agent on hand to speak with the airlines, or to do the refund process for you. Did you know travel agencies have special agency telephone numbers to contact airlines. Meaning they can speak to them usually a lot faster than you could as a customer. Meaning you don’t have to waste your precious time/money waiting on hold. Leave it to the experts and you will get an answer a lot faster.
How Can You Help?
Quite obviously the aviations and tourism industry isn’t going to get back to where it was without money. So if you do have future travel vouchers, or if you can use your refunded money to book for the future. Please do it. By locking these in now, for 2021 onwards you will be helping save something that is so so important to many people.
If you know a travel agent or something that works in the industry and you are planning a holiday or a trip. Give them a chance. You usually book yourself online? Give them the details and let them do the hard work for you. Travel agents really are experts in their fields. They have ways of finding cheaper flights or ticket types, they have rates at hotels that are exclusive to that agency and you won’t find online. Now more than ever, after spending months in lockdown brushing up on their destination training, they will be the go to people to help you plan that holiday of a life time.
Re-Build Your Trust.
I understand a lot of trust may have been lost during this time between you and your travel agent, whilst waiting for refunds, or the uncertainty of your holiday status. But by sticking with the company, re-booking future trips and by investing into saving them. I really do hope that when you step off the plane, and the heat hits you in the face for the first time in maybe a year, you are greeted by your friendly driver to take you to your luxury resort, where you are handed a welcome drink upon arrival, the fresh white sheets are sheets that you only can find in a hotel, you lay out by the pool or on your balcony on your first night, looking back at the year that was 2020, and you remember the smile on the travel agents face when she/he confirmed your holiday, you take all of this in and your trust in the travel industry has been restored.
All photos unless specified have been supplied by https://pixabay.com