The content in this article and webcast can be difficult to read and watch. However, the three participants have asked us to publish to highlight the position they are in and offer support to others in the same situation. Please see the foot of the story for contact details if you or anyone you know are in need of support.
Travel agents have spoken about the devastating impact of Covid-19 on their businesses and personal lives, saying they feel unvalued and abandoned.
In a special Travel Weekly Mental Health Matters webcast focusing on the personal toll the crisis is having on people working in travel, three agents opened up about their concerns for their businesses and livelihoods.
Jenny Jackson, owner of Luxury Travel Gurus who was meant to be recuperating from life-saving brain surgery when the Covid pandemic hit and suffers from panic attacks, said she felt businesses in the sector have been labelled as the “bad boys”.
She said it was not helpful that all customers saw in the consumer media was that they were legally entitled to have their money returned within 14 days while agents like her were battling to recover funds from suppliers.
“We have been totally abandoned,” she said. “What hurts me more than anything is no-one mentions how hard we have worked. No-one has listened and hears that the majority of us have worked for months now for almost nothing.
“I do not know what we have done wrong, I really do not. I cannot understand why we are being constantly disregarded. I honestly feel what would take a huge weight off our shoulders would be if someone turned round and said well done to the travel industry, they have done a magnificent job.
“No one has stood up and given us what we deserve and called out the hard work we have done, and that’s heart-breaking. Right at the beginning of the pandemic the consumer press did not help us at all. We did not need the general public being told you should get your money back within 14 days.
“It was really tough. We could not get hold of tour operators to sort out bookings. It was really hard on us and yet no-one said ‘these guys have worked their socks off, someone give them the recognition’.”
Emma Kayne, of Kayne Travel in Wath-upon-Dearne, Rotherham, said her fledgling high street business was about to turn its first small profit when the Covid-19 shutdown happened, but that she now has debt the equivalent of a small mortgage after an accountancy error left her owing £12,000 she had not expected.
She said she was able to furlough her shop staff but that she has now had to put them on minimal hours and is looking to hibernate the business over the winter because she won’t be able to even afford to keep the heating on if she were to keep the store open.
Kayne said she has the support of her husband, who has an income, although she described the situation as “absolutely desperate at the moment” as the second Covid wave hits and the businesses is facing more refund requests but has nothing to sell.
“In February we were flying. Everything was positive, everything was going really well. But as long as there is quarantine in place we can’t see a way out of it at all, which is why we are looking to put the shop into hibernation and potentially find other jobs,” she said.
“With the job retention scheme I would have to pay more money for staff for less work and I cannot afford to do that. We have to keep our overheads low until quarantine is lifted.
“My customers do come and see us face to face, they do want our assistance and they want us to help them through their booking and they want bookings to be financially protected, but at the moment, because we have quarantine for the majority of the world, we have nothing to sell.
“For me, it would be helpful if we were classed as a sector that has been closed, if they could close my shop for the winter and let me have the same entitlements as the hospitality trade. I know hospitality has been hit hard, but it at least still has something to sell.
“Even for next year people are holding on to their money and do not want to make bookings because consumer confidence is absolutely at an all-time low.”
Matt Griffiths, of Encore Travel, opened his agency at the start of the year having left his former job in retail and said trying to build a business in travel now was proving “virtually impossible”.
He spoke about feeling like he had become a financial and emotional burden on his wife and family and said: “I just do not see where the next bit of income is going to come from to make sure that the bills are covered. I’m lucky in that my wife works; however, it’s not sustainable and it’s not fair on her to be supporting me as well.”
Griffiths said he has applied for more than 40 jobs including some in supermarkets to tide him over, but is often told he is over-qualified by employers who know he is just looking for a stop gap. And he said he was furious at the lack of government support.
“It’s an anger, almost a rage now,” he said. “When I her politicians saying they are throwing their arms around the entire country and no one is going to be left behind – every single word is complete rubbish.
“There are almost three million people out there who are entrepreneurs and started their own business to kick-start the small business economy and they have been left behind. That’s the feeling I wake up with every morning; the feeling of abandonment and where do I go from here.”
If you, or someone you know, has been affected by a mental health issue or needs support, it is available from within and outside our industry
Abta Lifeline offers services including counselling and support: abtalifeline.org.uk
Mental Health Foundation resources: mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus
Samaritans: Call free of charge on 116 123
Travel Weekly’s Mental Health Matters advice, resources and coverage: go.travelweekly.co.uk/mentalhealthmatters
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