Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan still has concerns over staff safety and customer demand

The light at the end of the tunnel is finally a glimmer in the distance and we can maybe start to plan for our future. The past 10 weeks have been a frenetic blur of emotion, challenge and very hard work for everyone in the travel industry. It’s been tough. But, while we are most certainly not out of the Covid crisis, at least we can now start to take the first steps towards a new ‘business normal’ as lockdown eases.

Non-essential retail in England is allowed to open from June 15 but what will retailers and, most importantly, customers choose to do?

Clearly some retailers are still uncertain about a speedy reopening, with many choosing to pilot a small number of shops first. They evidently don’t think customers – at least, not enough of them – are ready to match the costs of opening. This is the dilemma facing travel agents too.

My business is just starting to collect the very busy month of September balances. Normally, this is an easy, business-as-usual process. The difference this year is that every customer collection rightly involves a long conversation about whether to pay, whether to walk away or whether to change the date.

Clearly, for us as an agent – and for our travel supplier partners – it is important to secure the balance or a change of date.

These are long conversations that are key to our future. Will opening our shop add or take away from this key role? At the moment, I feel it will probably take resources away, as my staff are limited in number because of furlough. They could easily spend half an hour or more with a regular client dropping in to talk about Covid and its impacts. But it’s not an easy call.

What’s the demand?

There is another important consideration. How much extra new business could we expect to pick up from being physically in the shop as opposed to our virtual shop operation? Some, for sure, but enough? I’m yet to be convinced it is enough, but with the situation changing all the time my decision is one that only applies today – tomorrow could be different.

I’ve just sent out a quick survey to my staff and our clients and, as I write this, I am waiting for its results. How are both feeling about the ‘new normal’? What are their worries and concerns? If I can understand and overcome those concerns, it will go a long way to ensuring the decision is right for us all. It needs to be!

What are the issues?

The challenges for staff could well include security, as most shops only have one member of staff working, albeit virtually, at the moment.

And what about schools? Not all year groups are due to go back, so what do staff do about childcare? What happens if staff members’ families are currently shielding? How do they feel about going into work and coming into contact with lots of people? There is a long list.

As for our clients, will they enjoy going back to the shop or, in the short term at least, prefer safe dialogue by phone or Zoom? How ready are they to return to going to the high street in general? What levels of PPE are they expecting?

These are key questions and with the benefit of sharp-end feedback, I hope we can make the right decisions on how and when we reopen, which will happen. I am in no rush to reopen at the moment. I need to ensure I’m in-step with the rest of the high street and that our shops are not closed when everyone else is open. But I need also to ‘feel’ the time is right, in tune with public sentiment.

Last week, our new business was the best it’s been since lockdown. Flights might well start in July. Shops are reopening in mid-June. You cannot help but feel uplifted by the current, better news. Even so, Covid is going to be a marathon not a sprint.

Webcast: Miles Morgan and Amanda Matthews