A year of Covid-19 in SA: Travel agent went from busiest month ever to zero income
Durban - February 2020 had been Travel Savvy owner Jennifer Morris's busiest month during her 16 year career. A day before the first case of Covid-19 hit South Africa last March, Morris wanted to expand her Durban travel agency and flirted with the idea of hiring more consultants to help meet the rising demand.
In her words, "Business was booming.“
Everything changed when the pandemic hit. Morris said she went from "hero to zero" in a matter of days.
Morris had to deal with changes and cancellations on existing bookings, frantically tried to get those travelling to international destinations back home due to border closures and dealt with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
By April, she had zero travel inquiries, hadn't issued an invoice and received no income.
"I went from working 15-hour days to not having a single request," she recalled.
In June and July last year, Morris worked with airlines to bring South Africans home on repatriation flights.
Although she earned a small commission, she aimed to "reunite families with their loved ones. To her, "it wasn't about the money".
Morris held her head high during the tough months that followed and challenged herself to think outside the box and find ways to generate an income.
It paid off when travel in the country began to see an uptick in international and local visitors and some borders reopening globally.
"Things were starting to return to normal. We were hopeful and tackled our job with renewed optimism. For once in a long time, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"Business wasn't as good as pre-Covid, but it showed growth since the first cases of the virus hit the country. The industry started to pick up," she said.
The feeling of victory didn't last very long as South Africa, along with the UK, experienced a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
Subsequently, many countries closed their borders and banned travel to and from South Africa. The new Covid-19 mutation came after South Africa announced its second wave in December.
The developments caused Morris financial devastation.
"The travel and tourism industry is back to square one, only this time it's worse. There's a horrible feeling of hopelessness as one cannot predict what will happen next. Our livelihoods hang in the balance. It feels like a nightmare," she said.
The mother of one isn't giving up hope. She encourages travel agencies and other businesses in the tourism industry facing a tumultuous time to "hang in there".
Morris said that she's fortunate to live in South Africa, a country rich in diverse offerings and boasts spectacular travel opportunities.
She has since shifted her focus to domestic and regional travel. Her three-month plan entails an aggressive campaign to market South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
She foresees a resurgence in the travel and tourism industry once borders reopen and the number of coronavirus cases reduces.