2020 HAS been a difficult year for most industries, and travel agents have been hit harder than most with cancelled flights and advice against going abroad.
However, despite the challenges, the industry has remained resilient.
A new strain of Covid-19 spreading in Britain has seen further disruption to the travel industry this week.
However, with anticipation for a widespread vaccine in 2021 building, travel agents in Cork are getting ready for what is hoped to be a very busy year.
Since March, with the outbreak of the pandemic, things have been far from easy.
“From March up until about three weeks ago, we were down about 98% on last year so pretty much all of our bills and wages are being paid, so there is money going out but no money coming in,” said Paul Dawson from Dawson Travel.
“Unfortunately for us, we are not earning any money and haven’t done since March so we are living off basically the commission and the service fees we would have had on those bookings.”
In January of 2020, Dawson Travel saw record-breaking sales — however, within a matter of two months, things quickly changed.
Mr Dawson said: “We had 1,000 students booked to go on their Leaving Cert holidays
in the summer and who had booked in September and October who now didn’t know what was happening, and then you have all the families who booked in January and February and then, right up until the day before the outbreak, we were being told we don’t know how long this was going to last.”
Dealing with a lot of regulars and customers face-to-face made the months of cancelling and postponing 2020 trips a bit easier for Dawson Travel, though chasing up refunds with some companies proved to be a challenge in what Mr Dawson described as a difficult year.
“It’s across the board,” he said. “Everyone has been completely and utterly devastated. It’s like having a sweet shop without any sweets. We have all of these customers that want to go but can’t go because of the Covid-19 restrictions that are in place.”
According to Michael Doorley, president of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association and owner of Shandon Travel, customers listened to the Government advice against travel over the summer, which left travel companies without any income.
“The Government came out to say do not travel abroad, take a staycation this year,” said Mr Doorley. “That announcement, as well as all of the advertisements to say ‘staycation, don’t travel abroad, it’s not safe to do so’, that effectively closed down the income for every travel agent in the country.
“The green list was irrelevant to us completely because the advice from the Government was still not to travel and a couple of countries that were on the green list were of no interest anyhow.
Mr Dawson echoed this point, saying: “If you’re on the green list and it turns back to red just before you go, your travel insurance won’t cover you so it’s pointless, and also at the same time, Government is handing out a green list and telling you not to travel.”
Despite the challenges of managing refunds, cancellations and the postponement of many holidays, Mr Doorley said that travel agents have remained resilient.
“Even though since March travel agents have not been earning income, we have all had to retain staff to deal with the transferring of bookings to next year, refunds and all of that for flights, for cruises, for packages, everything across the board, so it has been a difficult period for travel agents,” he said.
“The industry has survived well.
“It has been a difficult period for travel agents who have no income coming in, but you have to cover the wages for staff that you are keeping on to deal with all of those issues.”
Both Mr Dawson and Mr Doorley said that schemes such as the Government’s wage subsidy scheme and the introduction of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme have helped the industry.
Despite a challenging year, both Dawson Travel and Shandon Travel are expecting a very busy second half of 2021, with many Irish people itching for a break away, or to visit family abroad.
“It has been tough, but travel agents are surviving it and what we are hearing on the street from everybody is huge pent-up demand from the public,” said Mr Doorley.
“The future looks bright for travel agents. There’s probably going to be a peak of bookings and then it will taper off and level, and I anticipate that that level will continue right into next winter.
“The tunnel we were looking down for so long, with no light at the end of it, has suddenly gotten a lot shorter with the vaccine coming out.”
Since December, Mr Dawson has already had some bookings for the summer of 2021.
“Next January we expect to be absolutely inundated,” he said. “We’re getting in extra staff over Christmas to get us over the January, February rush and in January and February I would expect record-breaking sales.
“We’re expecting things to absolutely explode — they already are.”