It’s been hard to see through the gloom but some small positive signs are emerging, says Thompson Travel owner Sharon Thompson

I have tried my best to think of something to write about to cheer our industry up, instead of presenting doom and gloom and discussing mixed messages from government.

To be honest, it’s been hard to think of something – not having an end date to this unknown disaster is hard to bear. But at least we are now seeing a return to some sort of normality, even if it is very different to what we knew before the pandemic.

“Four months ago, who could have imagined having to employ a member of staff to stand at the door and explain signage and restrict entry.”

I took a trip to the local shopping centre before opening my own shop, and quietly laughed to myself. The signage in shops made me feel like I was on a main road with roadworks: ‘Keep your distance’, ‘One way’, ‘Single lane only’. I fear a major crash may happen soon, as I observe some shoppers trying to abide by the laws while others are oblivious.

Other changes are going to affect how we do business. Four months ago, who could have imagined having to employ a member of staff to stand at the door and explain signage and restrict entry. It’s another expense owners do not need, but if it works and we eliminate this virus, let’s get it done.

Regaining a presence

I opened my office on July 1 on reduced hours from 11am -3pm to regain a presence, suss the market and see how the office will look. It has actually felt good to open the doors and sit in a ‘normal’ workplace, but nothing has really changed much since March.

We have set up appointments and most of those have been taken up by those whose travel has been affected, albeit to move holidays rather than cancel them.

“It has actually felt good to open the doors and sit in a ‘normal’ workplace, but nothing has really changed much since March.”

But do I have confidence to book the optimistic who want to go in the next few weeks because they have worked through this and only have set holidays off? No, I don’t. All I see is re-administering a lot of these bookings and holding on the phone to operators for three hours to get them shifted.

The most common comments have been, ‘thank goodness you didn’t close down’, ‘when the government gives clear advice we will be booking again’, and the usual, ‘when will our refund be through?’

Forward bookings

New bookings for 2021 are a trickle, but that’s better than nothing. For the next few months, it will be a case of balancing the benefits of opening against the volume of sales coming in. Furlough is being used where possible but it’s not going to last for ever. On a positive note, the weather is rubbish, so I’m hoping that will provide a bit more incentive to travel next year!

“A lot of our enquiries have come from people who have benefited from extra hours in health or food-related jobs, so it makes sense to focus on that group.”

There is a lot of talk of job losses, and sectors like ours have been hit hard. But on the other side, a lot of our enquiries have come from people who have benefited greatly from extra hours in health or food-related jobs, so it makes sense to focus on that group and try to deliver what they want for a much‑needed getaway.

At the end of the day, you really can’t beat doing business face to face. It’s why our customers book with independent travel agents. Long may this continue and let’s hope the trickle of optimistic customers becomes a surge by September.


Trust him, he’s a doctor

I read with interest comments made by Dr Jack Lambert, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. He said he would be happy to travel to Greece, with appropriate social distancing and health measures in place, and would feel safe to return to Ireland without risking his loved ones. However, due to restrictions in place, he will instead be visiting relatives in Scotland, which he would currently regard as higher-risk.

Either way, he said it was the personal responsibility of every traveller to conduct Covid-prevention safely, and people who decided to travel shouldn’t be chastised for doing so.

He speaks a lot of sense!