On March 19, 2020, our business changed forever. It was 10.30 am, 30 minutes after Qantas Airways stood down most of its 30,000 workforce.
We gathered our teams in our boardrooms in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and delivered the news that due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, there was no new work to be done for at least 6 months. Just like that, we sent our teams home. An abrupt stop to our wonderful travel advisor businesses. It happened fast.
With our desks and award trophies gathering dust, we have been running on a half-full (not empty) engine, liaising with clients on cancellations and rescheduling. A thankless task with no earnings, in fact, negative earnings. Reminding our clients “We are here to help if you need us”, just in case our borders miraculously open up and travel starts again.
There have been proud moments; gifts arriving from thankful clients to our advisors and seeing our advisors hungry for our newly developed online training and development programs delivered via zoom, the world’s favourite new social media platform.
“When do you think we will travel overseas again?” has been asked 1,000 times. For our Australia/NZ region, travel is starting. Intrastate travel is allowed in most states. The ability to sleep in a hotel bed is back – it feels like years. The next stage is interstate travel. This will be phased in by state, according to the different risk appetites of our leaders. Don’t forget, Australia and New Zealand are heading for the colder winter months, so there is little demand for sun and beach holidays until later in 2020.
The mooted “travel bubble” may include Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and some other South Pacific Islands. That’s when things will get a little more exciting. Economic and social demands will come into play. As I heard the other day “If we don’t send tourists to some of these smaller countries that rely on tourism, we’ll have to send aid workers”.
The irony is that our travel advisors need to become quick experts in selling domestic and regional travel. Fast. We are great sellers of Europe, Asia and the Americas. We have never been super-sellers of our own region. We are better at selling Sicily than Sydney. Better at selling Madrid than Melbourne.
The opportunities in our region are endless, Beaches, outback stations, bushlands, mountains, wineries, major cities – all there for clients to book and enjoy with their friends and families.
Our clients love travelling. For the time being, we will connect with them and sell them the dream of local travel. And more importantly, present holidays ideas so they book with us today. It’s important for our teams that they see bookings. They love booking, not cancelling. They love making money, not seeing negative results.
The relationships we have with our loyal clients will prevail. Later in 2020, we will start planning overseas trips for 2021.
What will change in our business? I think our industry role will be cemented as trusted travel advisors. As experts who know where to go, how to go safely, and what measures need to be followed. The strong relationships we hold with our supplier partners will be critical to travel intelligence and forward planning requirements.
Have we taken our business, our people, our clients, our supplier partners and our wonderful industry for granted? To some extent, yes. Caught up on the treadmill of work and life, we seldom stop and digest our lives and our work.
COVID-19 has afforded me the opportunity to stop and think – and to appreciate the travel industry more than ever. We are so lucky to work in this sector. It brings together so many people from different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and circumstance. But one thing unites us. And that is our passion for travel.
We will travel cleaner. We will travel better. Our clients will make us work harder to provide more information and details of their planned trips. They will ask more questions about hygiene and cleanliness. And hopefully question us more about sustainable environmental practices.
In Australia, we are so far away from the rest of the world. We crave human connections. We wonder farther to seek different experiences. And nothing will stop us from continuing. We just have to wait a little longer. See you soon World.