Travel agents report that the Government’s fortnightly-changing Green List, coupled with its mixed messaging, has discouraged people from booking – and that the July Jobs Stimulus proposal to change to an EWSS of €203 per week from 1 September will result in mass redundancies within the industry.
ITTN asked six travel agents around the country (one of whom preferred to remain anonymous) to give their responses to the Green List and its effect on client confidence and the agency’s ability to plan. We also asked what they thought about the July Jobs Stimulus, how helpful or otherwise it will be to their business, and what is really needed.
There was much unanimity in their responses, but each also contained some unique points…
Paul Hackett, Click&Go, Dublin
I don’t think it matters now what countries are on the list, what colour it is, or what shade of green the list is – consumers have been put off international travelling this year by a constant barrage of negative messaging. Both outbound and inbound travel are being sacrificed for 2020 and ironically the Government admitted on national radio over the weekend that international travel only accounted for 2% to 5% of total cases in Ireland.
When you consider that Italy has been open since 3 June for both inbound and outbound travel, and it’s on the Green List for Ireland, what are they doing that we are not? How come our Government are not looking at our European neighbours, who are managing travel and Covid-19 at the same time and learning from them? We can’t eradicate Covid-19 and the country needs travel for business, VFR and leisure – we have to live with the virus and show good personal responsibility.
By the time it came for the Government to deliver on the Green List, the hoped for assurances on travel had been removed. The fact that Cyprus and Malta were removed so quickly created a worry for potential customers that the Green List does not give any certainty on travel.
Without confidence or some degree of certainty there will be no international travel from Ireland. From holiday shaming to wearing the ‘green jersey’, the group of people most likely to travel were put off considering such an option.
July Jobs Stimulus
For an industry that is over 95% down since March, the July Jobs Stimulus package does not recognise the unique position that the travel sector is in. No one in Government sees the need or associated costs for us to remain open to handle cancellations, refunds and re-bookings.
While useful to have clarity on the new wage subsidy programme to the end of March 2021, the payment per employee falls way short of what is required. The wage subsidy part is key and what is proposed is very disappointing. As an industry we are effectively closed down until 2021 and we have many more costs than just headcount, but that has been ignored. While there are other parts, such as the re-start grant and reclaiming corporation tax from 2019, there is no appetite for loans and we are hearing that the Government-owned banks are saying that they will not lend to the travel industry, even after companies have got through the SBCI application process.
As an industry combined we estimate that we are going to lose approximately €120 million in commission and margins this year – and those margins are tiny – so without direct Government supports, as in grants or payments for not trading or being blocked from trading, many businesses will not survive.
Mark Clifford, O’Hanrahan Travel, Monaghan
The Green List has done nothing to encourage the general public to travel abroad. The initial confusion with the mixed messages coming from Government when the initial Green List was announced put people off travelling. A lot of unnecessary scare mongering and ‘holiday shaming’ has totally put the public off foreign travel – despite the fact that many of our top selling destinations have less incidences of the pandemic than we have in Ireland.
It is almost impossible to sell foreign travel at present or plan for the months ahead. Every country has its own entry restrictions and regulations that clients have to adhere to. Travelling with the possibility of having to quarantine for 14 days on one’s return is totally off-putting for working people here. The recent experience of both Malta and Cyprus being taken off the Green List further adds to the reluctance to travel abroad. There is simply no appetite for foreign travel from North or South. Northern Ireland’s Green List is much more comprehensive than ours, yet there is little interest from our Northern clients to travel either.
Aside from that, I don’t know come September how many staff I will need or can afford. I can’t put any advertising strategies in place as I don’t know for certain where I can send people to. Ski season is now up in the air too. It’s a total mess!
July Jobs Stimulus
There is little in the July Jobs Stimulus package for our industry. While the increase of the Back to Work Scheme and the rates reduction for this year are a help, and will assist in paying some ongoing service bills, the reduction in the Supplementary Wage Scheme is a big set-back. We are in a Catch 22 situation: we need the staff in to administer the live bookings that we have taken over the past eight-to-12 months, yet there is absolutely no income stream to pay their wages. We are one of the few industries that will have no income for the foreseeable future and we need to be recognised as such by the Government. Pubs, restaurants and hotels will see some revenue stream before the year-end, but travel agents will not due to current Government policy.
The rate reduction and the refund of our 2019 rates are some help, but no doubt the local authority will be looking for our 2020 rate payment in December as normal. I suspect that 1 September will be a red letter day for many agencies if the reduction in the Wage Subsidy Scheme is not reversed for our industry. I understand that there is a global pandemic, and we must be guided by Government advice, but when it is detrimental to our livelihood and to the businesses that we have invested so much in over the years, we need help.
I have no doubt that we will have a thriving business when this is all over, but in the meantime in order to protect our staff and our businesses the Government needs to recognise us as a special case and make additional allowances for the position that we have been forced into by the pandemic and by the policies that they have introduced.
John Galligan, John Galligan Travel, Dublin
The Green List was a total mystery to those in the travel business. Including countries like Greenland, Monaco, San Remo, and Gibraltar just showed that those compiling it were totally focussed on infection rates without any real understanding of the inability of anyone to get there. It makes a mockery of a ‘travel’ list and undermines its credibility. Publishing this list and subsequently revising it two weeks later gave people a false sense of security and many have booked holidays to those countries and have now been wrong-footed.
This Green List, along with contradictory statements about not travelling at all, have caused utter confusion among the travelling public. As people have been badly caught out by buying holidays to Green List countries that were then de-listed, the general public will not now book anything to anywhere – Green List or not. I believe this has had the effect of killing any hope of any outgoing business for the rest of 2020.
This on-again-off-again approach has spooked customers and there will be nobody booking anything this year. In as far as that goes, our plans must be focussed on surviving without any income for another six months – at least!
July Jobs Stimulus
I appreciate that the Government has to reduce costs and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme was always going to be a target. By reducing this to €203 a week from 1 September, they have made the entire travel business unviable. My understanding is that almost every travel agent in the country is implementing immediate wide-scale redundancies.
The irony is that we all have good forward order books, good cash and good client lists. In other words, we are all viable businesses in the long term. But we have taken a battering in the past five months and we cannot afford to pay wages (or top-up the €203) for the next six-to-nine months. Staff cannot afford to live on that amount and remain committed to their employers. So they will seek redundancies, which will have to be paid for by the State as the companies’ cash reserves are depleted (as distinct from clients’ funds, which are secure), as will the Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is at the same rate as the wage support.
I have begun a ‘Save Travel’ campaign on social media and a strong lobbying effort directed at politicians. I am encouraging every travel agent owner to get every one of their staff to send an immediate e-mail to their local TDs. I have already placed all my staff on protective notice and everyone I have spoken to has made a similar move. Of the 3,500 jobs in travel I predict that up to 3,000 of them will be gone within the next four weeks. This is a DIRECT CONSEQUENCE of the withdrawal of the €350 per week TWSS and its replacement by the EWSS at €203 per week.
The vista this presents is that almost the entire indigenous Irish travel business could be wiped out in the next few weeks and months unless some urgent support is given to the SMEs that make up the business. These businesses and jobs are dotted throughout the country , in small towns and villages. They are the hardest jobs to create and, once lost, will be impossible to get back. The Government stimulus package, particularly the EWSS, is designed for companies with turnover down by 30%-50%. It takes no account of companies like those in the travel business whose turnover is negative – to the tune of -125% or more. We have used our retained reserves to get this far and, without much more support from the Government, we will not have enough reserves left to pay salaries and overheads for the next six-to-nine months.
Irish travel agents have been decimated by this situation. We need balance sheets restored and funding for staff costs as a very minimum. So grants – not loans – and ongoing wage support is a minimum.
Maura Fahy, Fahy Travel, Galway
The Government’s Green List, and its recent revision, is of no use to us in selling holidays. We cannot plan either way – we can only sell a holiday on the Tuesday for passengers travelling in the coming 14 days. This uncertainty is detrimentally affecting our business.
July Jobs Stimulus
What stimulus?! We need support at the TWSS levels.
Declan Hughes, FlyCruiseStay, Limerick
The Green List is extremely limited in choice and the fact that it changes every two weeks makes it very difficult to plan a holiday. Some of the destinations on the initial Green List didn’t even have an airport, or flights from Ireland. Sometimes I wonder if this list was created to appease the trade. It has little scope in terms of choice, with the only long-haul destination being Greenland (which has no direct flights from Ireland!). Greenland is a great detention for hard and soft adventure travel, but it is not on everyone’s radar.
The possible deletion of countries from the Green List every two weeks makes an agency’s ability to plan impossible. The scary thing is that if the Government can, at any stage, issue an advisory for citizens to come home immediately once there, and to self-quarantine on arrival back home, it makes it so difficult to instil consumer confidence and peace of mind. We can only promote destinations that are on the Green List, although we cannot and will not stop someone travelling to a destination outside the Green List if they desire to do so.
It should be made clear that those countries on the Green List should align with the DFA’s guidelines under ‘Normal precautions’, and that it should be ‘Green for Go’. Then, unless an emergency ensues, there should be no-one instructed to curtail their holiday or self-quarantine on arrival, because the green light was given to travel in the first instance.
There is little appetite to travel overseas at present. It is very much a trickle to what should be at full flow this time of year. The Canary Islands and Portugal offering Covid-19 insurance to their visitors helps, but, alas, they are not on the Green List! The list should also be regionalised – for example, the Canary Islands are quite safe to visit, but because they are part of Spain, they are not included, but hey are located very far away from mainland Spain.
July Jobs Stimulus
It is helpful, but really a token gesture at the end of the day. The Covid-19 payment helps, but not by much.
A grant would be very welcome – not a loan! – and opening up more destinations, similar to what most countries in the European Union have done. We need Asia to open up, the USA also, but conditional on safe and managed infection rates, of course. There is very much an uneven playing field because the Government are urging staycations via radio ads. In addition to battling a severe downturn in business, we are effectively competing against constant radio advertising staycations during public announcements from the Government.
The Government really haven’t grasped the knock-on effects of the ‘Green List’. All it has done is confuse clients with endless mixed messages. Many countries abroad are much safer than Ireland and stricter in their protocols for handling the pandemic. Revising the list fortnightly only adds to the confusion as people who want to book will hold off because they know it changes so quickly. They are extremely confused and airing on the side of caution and not booking.
It is impossible to plan anything at all in our business now other than for 2021 – and even that can be impossible. The situation is changing by the minute so that we cannot stand over any suggested holiday ‘Green List’ ideas for our clients for fear that they come off the Green List and we are left picking up the pieces – again!
People are desperate to get away and travel but are more nervous than ever, despite airlines and airports putting excellent facilities in place. People are experiencing holiday shaming as well if they do travel, with others quick to judge them. This only hinders people from booking holidays even further.
July Jobs Stimulus
Our industry is an exceptional one, and the Government really need to grasp that our circumstances are very different to the rest of the hospitality service sector. We had to give back profits from bookings six months leading up to March 2020. There are no bookings since March 2020 – and nothing for the foreseeable future until probably spring 2021.
The wage subsidy scheme is not enough for us: we need massively to recoup our losses as we have lost a year’s trading so far. The Government have told people not to travel and therefore deemed our business null and void. We need substantial grants to stay afloat and find a way to trade through the next six-to-12 months and then, hopefully, face a surge of business when travel is safe again.
We will need a substantial package to help us justify keeping the business, that we have worked hard for over many years, viable. It is absolutely heart-breaking to watch our company fall apart and having to deal with negative calls from clients every day. Our mental health is severely affected and if we had some grants injected into our business it would take that pressure off us to be able to see some light and breathe a little.
We are an industry that normally breeds positivity, making holiday dreams come true. Every day now we are the polar opposite – we spend our days giving out bad news after bad news after bad news.