The travel industry has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic: flights have been canceled, vacation companies are going out of business, staff are losing jobs, and customers are angry about the way they have been treated by some companies.
But despite this, two travel companies are confident enough to establish themselves now, despite the industry facing an uncertain future.
The Travel Journal, in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, opens its first store in the city center.
Travel agent Ben Poole, 37, decided to open his first travel agency shop in Harrogate
Meanwhile, Sunny Heart Travel is launching its travel agency online after Thomas Cook’s collapse.
This is Money spoke to both founders to find out why they decided to go ahead with plans despite a painful year for global travel.
The Travel Journal: Opening a Physical Store
Travel agent Ben Poole, 37, decided to open his first store in Harrogate’s Montpellier area in early September after a retail space became available.
The Travel Journal began trading on January 1 with Ben, as its founder and sole employee, working exclusively from home.
However, he was waiting for an opportunity to purchase a retail space in the small, independent part of Harrogate city center.
Ben, who has been a travel agent for over 20 years, said, “I was waiting for a retail space to arrive and, what is quite surprising these days, there is a waiting list for retail units.
“I got wind of one becoming available in July and it was a case of doing it now or regretting it later, because chances are there wouldn’t be another in the near future.”
This may seem like a brave – or crazy – choice when the world faces a pandemic, but Ben says he didn’t want to miss the opportunity.
At first glance, the timing looks interesting, but it has worked in my favor as I am responsible for me and my future.
“There is no one else who can make the decision whether my job is in danger or not, because it is all in my own hands.”
Thomas Cook collapsed last September after closing many of its brick-and-mortar stores
After starting the business at home at the beginning of the year, he had a rough time during the lockdown where he says they were “ panic stations from the start. ”
Most of his time was spent trying to arrange for customers’ impending departures, making arrangements to take them home, and assisting with cancellations.
At this point, it wasn’t surprising there were no new questions, but he said it was okay because he didn’t have high overheads. But now, if the lockdown happens again, it will.
Ben said, ‘As holidays were booked from July, it made sense to open the store.
More people want to use travel agents for security. It has been a terrible learning curve for consumers as they are so used to booking online. Many have told me how nice it is to interact with someone personally. It gives people confidence and they know that they can contact me and that I am responsible.
Ben Poole – The Travel Journal
‘Travel corridors gave people the confidence to book and it seemed to be heading in the right direction. Before then, I had not conducted any research from March to July. ‘
Business has been going well since July with many bookings.
He has now noticed certain trends among clients, including last-minute bookings and paying for exotic vacations to faraway destinations for next year.
More people are now looking for security travel agents.
‘It has been a terrible learning curve for consumers because they are so used to booking online, but this has retrained them.
‘I have heard from many customers how nice it is to deal with someone personally. It gives people confidence and they know that they can contact me and that I am responsible. ‘
He is understandably worried that things will go downhill if a second full blockage occurs, but says he is prepared for the worst.
It will take at least 12 months for confidence to return and reach the stage where we can all travel freely to some degree.
‘But I’m going to build a reputation for my company. We don’t know the future and we can’t control it, so we have to worry about that. ‘
Sunny Heart Travel was founded last year by former employees of travel brand Thomas Cook
Sunny Heart Travel: Ex-Thomas Cook staff start-up company
Sunny Heart Travel is another travel agency to launch in mid-October.
The five ex-employees, made up of ex-Thomas Cook employees, registered the company in November 2019 using heart-shaped sunglasses as their logo – a reference to their former employer using similar signs.
Steve Bentzen, CEO, said that after Thomas Cook collapsed in late September, former employees hung out and decided to pick up where the travel agency left off.
Previously, he was program manager at Thomas Cook: ‘Naturally, there was room in the market to take on Thomas Cook customers and also to help all colleagues who were redundant at the time.
Cheers !: Steve founded Sunny Heart Travel after losing his job at Thomas Cook
“There are still many people who have not yet found a new job.”
Sunny Heart Travel now employs nine ex-Thomas Cook employees and hopes to hire more next month once the website is up and running.
Initially, it will only be online with a view to opening retail spaces in the future.
Steve said, “One of the big things is that Thomas Cook hasn’t spent enough on online offers.
“It put a lot of effort into retailing, but not their website, and if they had they would have kept up.”
Sunny Heart doesn’t have a huge need to fulfill right now and hopes to have 1,000 customers in the first month.
It’s privately funded with a small operating base, so Steve says the costs aren’t high at first.
‘We can survive for a while without an influx of customers. We hope to grow organically and drive the market to see how it fares.
‘In the first instance we keep prices fairly low and we set margins on package holidays. Since we have no shareholders and no huge organization to feed, we can keep prices low and our customer base under control. ‘
Sunny Hearts’ focus is on good customer service, which means customers can reach the team 24/7, with Steve saying ‘the more you can add, the more people can use you’.
Sunny Heart Travel was founded by ex-Thomas Cook employees who lost their jobs last year
Currently it only has entry-level ATOL coverage for 1,000 customers, but once it reaches this limit, it will request a larger license.
“If we can get 1,000 customers in the first month, we’re off to a flying start, and by the end of the first month, we can extend our ATOL coverage.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, Steve says the demand for vacations is still there, but he believes the coronavirus must be eradicated before the travel industry will recover to what it once was.
“It’s been a huge learning curve, but we have people who understand the business side and we’re going to move the business forward.”
Thomas Cook has now been bought by Fosun, a Chinese company, and is relaunched as an online holiday company.
It also won’t have hotels or planes like it once did.
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