The Plight of a Travel Agent
We recently had the pleasure of meeting Olivia, who spent the week with us for her A Level work placement.
Olivia wants to pursue a career in Travel and is keen to enter into the journalism world. We gave Olivia the task to write an article on the Travel Industry and how we have been affected during the pandemic.
Olivia we wish you all the luck and we have no doubt that you will be successful in all your future endeavours.
The Plight of a Travel Agent
Every industry has struggled differently throughout this pandemic, some even thrived. Covid-19 has left the world wondering if we’ll ever return to our way of life pre-pandemic or if masks and excess amounts of hand sanitiser is going to be our new normal. Lockdown after lockdown lead to cancellation after cancellation, leaving the travel industry wondering how it’ll ever recover from this.
When most lockdown restrictions were lifted on July 19th, everyone became hopeful, and normality was on the horizon. Unfortunately, the travel industry has been left with multiple complications. The government introduced the Traffic Light System (TLS) which places countries on a green, amber, or red list; these lists determine if you will have to quarantine before or after your holiday, and how many covid tests you will have to take in order to come back to England. It is important to remember that the TLS is not in place for entry, it’s in place for your return home and sometimes your return home is not always guaranteed to go swiftly. Also, just because a country is on the UK’s green list, that is not an automatic guaranteed entry into that country, their borders could be closed to the UK.
The problem with this Traffic Light System is that it is updated every three weeks, the next update is approaching on the 16th of September: people could be on holiday in an amber listed country, which gets moved onto the red list, meaning they’ll have to pay a lot of money to quarantine for 10 days and have covid-19 tests. A family of 5 would have to pay nearly £10,000 in order to quarantine after being in a red listed country, and if they don’t have their quarantine package sorted before they arrive back in England, they could be fined up to £4,000. This is a lot of money, already excluding loads of people from experiencing an international holiday this year because they cannot afford the potential price of quarantine.
It would be a lot easier to deal with the extra forms, entry requirements, and Covid tests if the advice the government’s TLS and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provide would stop contrasting against each other. The FCDO advise British citizens on the safety of the countries and cities they travel too; they determine the safety of a country depending on if there is a lot of violence or terrorism, and due to recent circumstances, the covid situation in that country. For example, Israel was on the green list due to its successful vaccination programmes, but when an outbreak of violence happened in Gaza, the FCDO advised against travel to certain areas of Israel. However, the Canary Islands is an amber listed country but there is no FCDO advice against travelling there, further proving that the safety of each country, regarding covid-19 and other factors, is changing all the time, which can be impossible for travel agents to stay updated on.
So, when the FCDO advise against all non-essential travel, but the TLS says you are still eligible to travel, people are left conflicted. If the FCDO advises against your holiday, your chance to find travel insurance at a reasonable price is slim, adding another expense and complication onto your holiday. The government are prioritising British citizens’ health and wellbeing by taking as many precautions as possible to fight the spread of covid-19; the advice of the TLS and FCDO is in place to make sure travellers don’t catch covid-19 or make the covid situation in different countries worse. But these procedures leave travel agents in tricky positions, with customers turning to them for advice when they are equally unsure about what countries will close their borders or move to different lists. Some would argue that opening our borders and allowing international travel is dangerous and we should wait until covid is controlled in most countries, but that happy ending could be years away; the travel industry and the countries that rely on tourism to support their economy could collapse if we wait until covid is no longer a prevalent issue.
Travel agencies have received no financial help from the government, this has led to family businesses which have been thriving for decades to close down. A day’s work as a travel agent during the pandemic can be filled with disappointment; their day could consist of cancellations and refunds, loosing money that they need in order to pay their workers’ wages, and their bills. Most importantly, they have limited advice and hope to give their clients. Agents have to watch their customers cancel special holidays every day; couples are nervously waiting for the news if they can go on their dream honeymoon, and if they can’t they have to wait for their refund or credit note, all on top of feeling crushed that they won’t be able to celebrate their marriage the way they wanted too.
People chose to work in the travel industry because they have a passion for experiencing culture and visiting every corner of the world. Agents spend countless hours creating itineraries and sampling holidays so they can sell them to customers, but when cancellations are happening every day, and bookings are only possibilities, it’s understandable when agents feel completely hopeless.
Travel agents have now become another place where customers turn to for advice about entry requirements, or if their holiday will even go ahead as planned, but travel agents aren’t specialists in this type of advice. So, what should you do when you want to go on holiday? To save you and your travel agent any unnecessary hassle (as well as your sanity), the best thing you can do when going on holiday during this pandemic is to check the entry requirements for your destination and for when you arrive back in the UK; sign up for e-mail notifications from the TLS and FCDO about the situation in the country you’re travelling to; make sure you’re double vaccinated (just to be on the safe side), and that you have covid-19 vaccine passports of proof of vaccination. It would also be wise to have money saved on the side, just in case your destination moves to the red list during your stay. Even if you’re doing a staycation this year, it is still important to check the covid-19 statistics in the area of the UK you’re visiting.
The situation in every country is different, for example, if you were going to Mauritius, which is on the amber list, you’ll need a valid passport, or emergency travel documents, and some people may need a yellow fever certificate. You should also understand local laws and customs, as it is important to respect the country you are visiting. Your freedom to explore the island depends on your vaccination status; if you are a fully vaccinated traveller, you need to stay at a certified covid-19 safe hotel for 7 days after arrival, and when you arrive at the airport, you’ll need to have a PCR test as well as a PCR test on day 7, in order for you to leave. Mauritius is removing these restrictions for fully vaccinated tourists on October 1st, 2021, from then travellers will need to present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours at the airport. If you are an unvaccinated traveller, you must quarantine in an official hotel for 14 days on arrival, taking PCR tests on your day of arrival, day 7, and day 14. After a negative PCR test on day 14 you have the freedom to explore the island and move to your new accommodation or home.
Evidently, there are many precautions and measures you need to take in order to travel to any country, and it’s important to keep on top of all advice given by the UK government, the government in the country you’re travelling to, and the FCDO. It is important to be aware of all the possibilities that await when you’re travelling throughout the pandemic; working alongside your travel agents, knowing all the information you need to know, and knowing what you want to do on your travels, can make the preparation you and your travel agent must do for this holiday much easier and more enjoyable.
Cancellations could be made, money could be lost, but the possibility of being able to travel and continue discovering the wonders of the world is keeping the spark in travel agents alight. We have been keeping positive (and for some, covid positive) for nearly two years, when we take the necessary precautions to stay safe when going to the supermarkets, or when we travel across the world, we are taking steps closer to enjoying life the way we used too.