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The pandemic has been incredibly tough financially, but I am also very aware of the emotional impact it has had on myself and also my staff. What signs should I be looking out for if someone is struggling emotionally and what can I then do to help them? Anon
It’s firstly important to recognise that we all need to look after our mental health as much as we do our physical health. The pandemic has really taken a toll on people for many reasons: isolation, caring for relatives, trying to work and home school, domestic abuse, relationship breakdown and bereavement.
If you see signs such as being late to work, missing deadlines, lack of care over appearance and losing confidence, they may well be struggling. One of the most important things is to start a conversation and, more importantly, listen. Ask someone if they are OK, and then ask again.
Listening and understanding the situation is so important as you can then best assess what support you can put in place to help them through this period. It might be more flexibility around work and childcare, encouraging a walk at lunchtime, or simply making them aware that you are there for them.
You could also consider training someone in your team as a mental health first aider, so your staff know they have a designated support, someone they can go to who they trust and can talk openly to.
Many issues can trigger poor mental health. Financial security is currently a huge issue for staff on reduced hours or on furlough. If they need help with debt or general financial advice you can point them in the direction of Citizens Advice, National Debt Advice Line, StepChange or ABTA LifeLine.
If you feel they need more expert support, charities such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation have lots of information. The NHS also has a list of organisations that can help with specific mental health issues, such as eating disorders and depression support groups.
If someone is clearly in crisis encourage them to speak to their GP or local mental health care provider or to talk to the Samaritans.
Don’t forget, ABTA LifeLine is an important part of ABTA membership, providing practical, financial and emotional support to travel colleagues in a time of need. LifeLine can help your staff with financial advice through their partner Citizens Advice Manchester (it will not affect credit ratings and is non-judgemental) and can offer 24/7 telephone counselling support through their partner The Centre for Crisis Psychology. LifeLine can also help with crisis grants, essential appliances and living costs, among other things.
Trudie Clements, director ABTA LifeLine
Each issue, we’ll be introducing you to the Council of Regions. This time, it’s Richard Slater, owner of Henbury Travel
I’m managing director of Henbury travel in Macclesfield and also northwest chair. I’ve been a travel agent for 36 years and have had my own business since 2011. I do a lot of work representing ABTA on a day-to-day basis – that can be within the press and media, or assisting travel agents with queries, so it’s quite an interesting role.
I’ve picked it up at a really interesting time. I was voted in in October 2019 – well before we ever knew about Covid. Since then, I’ve probably done about 60 hours of radio interviews on behalf of ABTA and Henbury Travel throughout the pandemic, and about 25 TV appearances. But it’s been very enjoyable – I actually prefer doing live television than recorded because you’re focused on it.
Business at the moment is quite busy, with new bookings mainly for 2022, while doing the odd booking for 2021. We’re also still doing lots of amendments and rebookings, plus a few cancellations, but that’s come down a little bit. Generally, I think we’re on the right side of things. It’s certainly moving in the right direction.
The main issue at the moment is passport validity – we get lots of queries about that. We are also having queries about the tests for travel, but I think we’re building confidence in holidaymakers. We did have a lot of customers who said they weren’t going to travel in 2021, but we’ve been generating some posts on social media, asking clients to send us photos when they’re on holiday, writing a little postcard of sorts about their experience travelling. People are looking at those and booking from that, and so these people that didn’t previously want to book are now getting the confidence. And, of course, we’re here all the way through for their tests or paperwork and ensuring that they’ve got the right documentation.
A lot of stuff has been put on one side, as far as the region is concerned at the moment. We’re focusing very much on ensuring that members in the region are getting the grants that they deserve from the councils and ensuring councils are paying out. I think the biggest issue has been for members in the northwest actually getting the grants, but also the agents have had very little time to do this because they’re busy sorting out rebookings, cancellations and amendments.
At the moment, we’re certainly seeing that, customer-wise, there’s a slight peak on over 50s booking. People are still hesitant, but are waiting to see what things are like month-by-month. For 2022, we’re seeing a lot more bucket list bookings to the Maldives, Barbados and Mauritius. People are also going for very high quality hotels. But, generally, we’re certainly seeing a far greater number of bookings for 2022 than we would usually see for the next year – in August, we’d done roughly double the usual bookings.
There are also one or two booking inquiries for 2023, but people are also doing cheap and cheerful stuff. That’s also positive. We’re not all about big expensive bookings. It’s still generating income and of course you don’t know what the next booking is going to be from them – it could be a £50,000 holiday. You’ve got to give the same quality of service to everybody.
We’re seeing one in three bookings from new customers. We’re also seeing people who’ve previously booked online who now want guidance. People are realising that, actually, the cost is no greater, but the service is far greater. That’s really good for us. Some of the regulars are slow, but they will come back. They’re just a bit nervous, but confidence is growing.