In a new series, we’ll be speaking to the chairs of the ABTA Council of Regions. This issue, it’s Sue Foxall, Managing Director, Kinver Travel
I’m currently the managing director of Kinver Travel Centre Limited, which is a high street travel agency in an upmarket rural village in Staffordshire. Under normal life circumstances, we sell everything from culture to around-the-world cruise — I’m on the sales and managerial side of that.
I’ve been involved with ABTA for about 30 years working as part of the Midlands region. My role really is acting on behalf of all the agents in my region, being there to help them and guide them through the ABTA system, organising and taking part in the regional business meetings. The biggest part of my role during the 18 months of the pandemic is doing radio (BBC Radio and BBC Midlands) as well as television, regarding the different stages that we’ve been going through.
Business is still at zero income and, and for us owners, zero salary — things haven’t changed since March 23 last year. We’ve had a few green lights, but they’ve not come to fruition yet — we’re focusing on building customer confidence at the moment.
As ABTA and as independent travel agents, we’ve been fighting strongly for dedicated financial support for our industry during the pandemic — our industry has got the lower rate of support grants. The problem that we’ve had with lobbying government is MPs do not understand how our industry works — we don’t get paid until somebody actually flies or floats on a cruise ship. We’ve been working behind closed doors since March 23 sorting out all the 2019 business, either refunding, rebooking or cancelling.
Kinver Travel is fairly upmarket and one of the trends I’ve been noticing is with silver travellers and people who are retired — they’re showing a real desire to actually travel at the moment, but there’s not enough clarity to give them that confidence to travel. We’ve had a few inquiries, but nothing materialises into a booking — it’s a big decision for people at the moment.
As we near the end of July, I think 2021 is a bit of a write-off for travel. There isn’t the time in the year for it to come back in sufficient numbers and it’s going to be a very slow restart. I think, as an industry, we have to focus on people getting away for winter sun and ski. And then hopefully, away for summer 2022. Getting back to the booking levels that we’d like to be at is what we hope for right now.
Though, speaking to agents like myself at the moment, we don’t want to do too many bookings at the moment because we’ll either end up cancelling them and refunding them or rebooking them. And actually, it’s an awful lot of work and we can’t add a service charge for doing it. We need to seriously be looking at that for future bookings — if we ever go through a pandemic again, all of us will go.
I’m certainly looking forward to bringing my excellent staff back off furlough to their normal working hours, and to being able to afford to pay for their salary, as well as the salary for the two directors out of earnings — let’s hope it’s soon!