COVID-19 - What is that you say? My answer is that I don't know.
If I heard you correctly, you wanted to book a flight to Coffs Harbour, or on Qantas? No, I asked you about COVID-19, and how is it going to affect me and my travel arrangements?
The truth of the matter is that no travel agent with the experience, or not, knew the impact of COVID-19. More to the point new how much impact it would have on themselves, family, colleagues, and of course, not to mention mental health.
For those of you that know me, I am Josh, the proud owner of a retail/ corporate travel agency with a team around Melbourne, three travel brands, and was Victorian Travel Agency of the Year, 2019. We had appeared on a small TV travel show on Channel 10 in 2018 and even won Outstanding Achievement in the same year. In mid-2019, I was fortunate enough also to open up a street shop, corporate space for clients in the busy suburb of Hampton, Melbourne.
Now, fast forward to March 2020 and the world started to talk about this "COVID-19". Countries began to close, airlines began to pause travel arrangements, and the phones didn't stop ringing about this COVID-19. ATAS, (Australian Federation of Travel Agents) commenced webinars to inform those accredited agencies out there what the hell was going on with this industry, and world. The world started to panic, and clearly, there was no rule book showing us, the agent what to do, how to help, or better yet, what are we meant to do?
April/ May 2020 rolled over, and life became hectic. Countries commenced lockdown. Grounded, to put it bluntly, and if caught, there were hefty fines to pay. With a lot of rules broken, a lot of business shut and a lot of staff losing their jobs, the economic crisis was building and building. Still, I would clearly say no one had anyone idea of what to do or say because the situation was getting worse, and worse.
Now, let's rewind to August 2019, where Josh Zuker Travel won the prestige award of Victorian Travel Agency of the Year, 2019, and in July 2019, opened up their corporate space in Hampton Street, Melbourne.
Now, July 2020, all of those walls come crashing down. The award is filed away, collecting dust, and the doors have been shut for good at the office. With the team working remotely, some leaving and reduced hours in place, life, as you can say within the travel industry right now, it is incredibly devastating, and beyond words.
How our industry looks to date:
Airlines: Virgin Australia Insolvent - Bought By Us Company. Latam, Thai Airlines, South African Airlines Filed For Bankruptcy. Air Mauritius Placed In Voluntary Administration. El-al Cancelled Direct Melbourne Flights And Suspended Operation Indefinitely. Thai Airlines Unable To Pay Commission. Singapore Airlines Impose Gds Agency Booking Fee. Qantas Retired 747's. Many Airline Carriers Parked A380's Until Mid 2021. Hundreds Of Thousands Of Flight Departures Cancelled Until Early/ Mid 2021 & Staff Fired.
Cruise Liners: Hundreds Of Thousands Cruise Liner (Ocean & River) Departures Cancelled Until Early/ Mid 2021 & Staff Fired.
Coach Tours & Car Rental: Hundreds Of Thousands Coach / Rail Tour Departures Cancelled Until Early/ Mid 2021 & Staff Fired. Hertz Car Rental Us Filed For Bankruptcy.
Government: Billions Of Dollars In Bailouts. Quarantine & Lockdown Rules Imposed And In Place Around The Globe. Mandatory Masks Required When On Board Aircraft. Mandatory Sanitiser Use When In Public Spaces. Major Retail Travel Agencies Shut Down/ Closed Doors And Reduced Staffing Hours/ Changes And Loss Of Jobs. Australian Borders Closed.
Travel Agents - Left Lost. Left In Tears. Left Broke. Left With The Unknown! Dealing With Legal Threats | Verbal & Written Abuse And More. And...Now Processing Hundreds Of Refunds And Credits.
Mental health is so important, and of course, reverting to drugs and alcohol (for some) can be tempting most days, it's the question of how we are going to navigate through this mess. Even with email automation, consistent client conversations, it's still not enough, because why? We are meant to have the answers, and of course, we do not.
I am not going to sugarcoat this, nor will I lie, From being such a passionate person about this industry I have been in for 20 years. The accolades that come along with it, and the success that I have had it all means nothing now.
Knowing the extreme amount of debt I am personally in. I have lost clients, worked through the jigsaw puzzles that didn't make sense, navigated my way through the devastating natural disasters that have occurred in this world over the years, and of course, the unforgettable terrorist attacks. But, COVID-19, WOW.
Written by Andrew Buerckner | 09 Jul 2020 (featured in KarryOn), he says; Some days, I'm struggling to drag myself out of bed; to find purpose in what I'm doing; to concentrate past midday. The trouble is, I'm not sure how many people outside the travel industry really get it. There's a level of naivety amongst even my closest family and friends about just how bad things really are (I'm realising as I'm writing this that maybe we've been so utterly overwhelmed by everything that we neglected to tell you).
I copied his words above because it was written so perfect, and so raw. It's so true, and this is how I feel, and with so many in the same situation, how we will recover? How will we bounce back? Can we maintain living on nothing? Or, better still, losing money daily.
For the first time in my life, I have experienced hardship, government loans and how I actually can't afford things to the point now, especially within the business I have had to make decisions to stay afloat.
To say I am personally struggling is an understatement. Still, it is a clear statement to say that, the entire travel industry is struggling and requires so much to be back to where it was, and of course, gain the confidence of the general public to travel again. Is this at all possible?
- How many more jobs need to be applied for and unfortunately be rejected?
- How many more travel agencies out there will survive...
- Or what's next?
Josh Zuker Travel turned over 10 Million Dollars last year, 2019 - now, 2020, at a loss of 3.5 Million Dollars (TTV), and on the verge of a complete business restructure. Like so many businesses and now, with Covid-19 Version 2, Lockdown, who will survive. How can the overheads continue to be paid with no money coming in?
I would cry myself to sleep. The devastation knowing how passionate travel agents are, not just myself because at most we are creating peoples dreams, have all come to one humungous roadblock.
With no way out at this point, and the reliance of airlines, cruise liners, borders and more, who knows what will happen next. All we know now, and for many months is how to issue a credit note or a refund, or send an email advising that you will still need to wait as we have not heard anything as yet.
COVID-19 - Please end. Please let our world get back to normal, or at least the way it was.