Comment: Travel is on the up but I’m not high-fiving yet

The pieces of the jigsaw are coming together but significant challenges remain, says Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan

I am delighted to write this having reviewed our April sales figures and seen we have exceeded our financial plan for April 2020.

This is a huge sign of new business returning to normal levels, a huge tick.

Rather like water running through a hole in a bucket, cancellations have been running high this year, mitigating some of the success of new sales.

April saw these return to normal pre-pandemic levels too. Another tick.

So, given this, why am I not running around high-fiving everyone in sight?

Firstly, I am delighted. It’s a position we have dreamed of for the past 24 months, so I won’t complain, but…

The job of a travel agent remains a huge challenge and the stresses on a workforce that has come through two years of hell remain high.

We are still seeing the final cruise ship deployments being nailed down, resulting in changes. The same applies for escorted tours where, when numbers are low, consolidation of tours often occurs.

These issues are nothing new after the past two years, but what is different now is the volume of new enquiries. Both staff and suppliers are under the pump from both directions and staffing levels have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Customer expectations

Things are slightly better for customers travelling this summer. Yet while we know that the barriers for travel have hugely reduced, many customers are not aware and they want reassurance that they have got all they need to go on holiday.

And who can blame them, after two years of constant change?

This means that every booking still has a very long transaction time, often with multiple communication with the customers. It is time‑consuming, especially when we are busy with new enquiries, but it’s the price we pay for being the better option for people than booking online.

Our new customers this year are testament to that, they love us.

Recruitment challenge

I have written about the recruitment challenge facing our suppliers before but, for the record, no company sets out to give poor service or not answer the phone. If you offered these companies new, fully trained staff, they would bite your hand off.

The problem is the fact that this is not an easy or quick fix, so we can expect a summer of challenges with many suppliers.

I also expect new enquiries to rise over the coming months as travel gets easier.

Each day, we see good news that countries are dropping their passenger locator forms or even the need to show proof of vaccination.

This will only increase demand, which is good but challenging.

My hope for my staff and others across the travel sector is a summer of fewer hurdles on PLFs and testing; more staff arriving at suppliers’ call centres; new holiday demand continuing to rise; and, finally, no new Covid variants.

At that point, I will high-five all around me. Until then, the challenges faced by my hardworking teams are not yet putting me in the mood to party.

But all the bits of the jigsaw are coming together and I fancy I will be partying at some point over the summer… everything is crossed.

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