Have a burning question you can’t find the answer to? Send us your query for an expert response. This month, it’s over to ABTA’s head of sustainability, Clare Jenkinson
There has been lots in the news lately about climate change, COP26 and the need for people, businesses and governments to take action. As a retail travel agent, it is hard to know where to start when it comes to reducing carbon.
I completely understand your position – the challenge presented by climate change can sometimes feel insurmountable. The UK has legislated to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and has also committed to reduce emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. All businesses have a valuable role to play, and ABTA has information and materials for members to help them develop a sustainability approach which is right for your business.
There are three areas to think about in your approach:
As a retail travel agent, it’s really valuable and important to look at your own operations and measure your own carbon footprint. For example, how energy efficient is your store or premises? Once you’ve done that you can set targets and identify what steps you can take to reduce your energy use – such as improving insulation, turning appliances off, moving to more energy efficient light bulbs and so on.
All of these actions, as well as other sustainability measures such as reducing single use plastics and cutting down on printing, make a difference.
The same thinking also applies if you have staff working from home or are a homeworking business.
You can have an influence through the suppliers you choose. More and more travel companies are publishing their sustainability strategies and plans for reducing carbon emissions, so this can be a good place to start. ABTA also has guidance for members on working with suppliers on sustainability.
When organising accommodation, you may want to consider those that are part of a sustainability certification scheme – such as Travelife, which many tour operators are signed up to.
As an ABTA member, you can get free Travelife for Accommodation membership that will give you access to a report of certified properties, which can then be used to promote more sustainable accommodation options that customers are increasingly seeking. ABTA members also have access to online training on how the Travelife certification works.
Sustainability has been increasingly on the minds of customers in recent years, and even more so now given the greater media and political attention on climate change. It is possible customers may start to ask you about questions around flying and climate change, so it is worth being aware of what the wider industry is doing on these issues.
Each issue, we introduce a member of the ABTA team. This time, it’s Roddie MacPhee, ABTA’s Scotland representative for the Council of Regions
I’ve been in this industry for 60 years. There have been lots of challenges over these years, but the last 18 months have been by far the biggest challenge I’ve experienced.
Previous challenges didn’t close members’ offices and businesses. We’ve seen company collapses, 9/11 and the Gulf War, but people have managed to keep ticking over in all these situations and come out the other side. So, Covid has been a step way beyond anything that the industry has faced in its entirety.
The big challenge, of course, is coming back out of it. That’s just beginning now. There are two major challenges: one will be customer confidence, the other staff recruitment.
In terms of customer confidence, nothing will be more important than that face-to-face conversation that agents and operators have with customers. Without doubt, there will be questions coming from customers that consultants have not had to deal with before. The accuracy of their response can very well dictate whether the customer decides to place their business with that agent, or not.
Have as much information as you can and know where to point customers to without it being some of kind of fob off – that’s where you can lose a customer. Then there’s the financial protection side of it – the customer will want to know if their money is safe. Will I get a refund? Will I have to wait six months for a refund? Agents really need to be on top of their game and provide a contact to speak to if something goes wrong, especially overseas. The dependence on information will be key.
For the staff recruitment aspect, without doubt the industry will have lost a lot of staff who might have gone into other industries or areas of work where they feel more secure and less stressed. Many might want to come back to travel, and they will be welcome. But if that doesn’t happen, you’ve lost years of experience that perhaps cannot be replaced instantly.
Being sensible and accurate in who you select is key, but most importantly, be courteous to the applicant in terms of communicating. Tell them whether they got the job or not and respond to everybody.
At the moment, the signs are positive for 2022. A number of people will take breaks, particularly to the Canaries, for winter. But I still think there’s a note of caution – I’m picking up vibes from people saying that they’d love to go but will just wait until next summer. People are overall reasonably comfortable for next summer and fingers crossed that will go ahead without restrictions or complications.
However, we’ve got issues like Morocco banning flights from the UK. If the number of Covid cases keep increasing here, we need to keep an eye on how other countries view that. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s one thing talking about the UK’s situation, but you have to keep your other eye on the destinations’ restrictions. Which brings us back to customer confidence and staff assurance.
There are big opportunities here for agents to make their mark and endorse the value they bring. Backed by the ABTA connection, I think we will see quite a good swing of potential customers going to ABTA agents. And when that happens, it will be absolutely vital to get that connection right.