Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson says companies must prioritise honesty and transparency in the Covid recovery

Back in March and April last year, I think we all believed that if we could get past the summer, then we could look ahead to winter bookings and enjoy a strong start to 2021. By early autumn, that timeline had shifted with hopes of a winter recovery pushed back to early this year.

Now, after the highs and lows of the vaccine announcements from the last few weeks, the latest lockdowns and travel restrictions have left many across our industry wondering just what the beginning of 2021 could bring.

I’m writing this column as Scotland plunges back into a full national lockdown, not dissimilar to the first one last March. I’m sure by the time this is published, England could well be facing the same, or similar, ‘stay at home’ orders. The drastic changes in guidance over the past few weeks have reminded me just how unpredictable this pandemic still is.

With so many factors affecting current trading conditions, it may feel overwhelming to look ahead to a new year. For some, hope may feel like a distant memory; for others, it may be the only thing driving you forward.

Strike a balance

But, as an industry, I believe that we have to remain cautiously hopeful and use our learnings from this past year to help us navigate the first quarter. I think the best way to maintain resilience is to strike a balance somewhere between hope and realism.

Hope will keep you and your colleagues motivated and it is sure to spark innovation. There are reasons to be cheerful for travel in the new year: hope for a successful vaccine rollout, hope for increased air corridors, hope for airport testing and hope for additional financial support. Hope for these things has united our industry during the most challenging of years and will continue to do so.

Of course, we must take action too. Momentum is crucial. Whatever happens in January, we must make sure that our voices are still heard at government level and keep working together. Whether your business is customer-facing or B2B, we are all accountable for ensuring we keep cross-sector communication channels open and work collaboratively towards the safe and practical reopening of travel.

Recovery will come

Realism is what will keep your business grounded; we’ve been reminded all too often of the importance of this when travel corridors have been pulled from under our feet. You should be realistic and honest with customers too – that’s how you’ll retain their trust and loyalty for repeat business. If we see a flurry of enquiries in January for sun-seeking holidaymakers, it’s OK to remind people of the uncertainties of booking and that things are subject to change right now. Your customers appreciate your advice and opinions; they are some of the most valuable services we can offer as travel agents.

As a business leader, I’m hopeful of sunnier days to come in 2021. In fact, I’m certain that recovery will begin at some point this year. But to get our business and our team to that point, I also have to lead with realism, which means prioritising honesty and transparency. With that balance, I know we can tackle whatever challenges 2021 brings.