SA travel agents on covid-19: 'We haven’t seen this scale of disruption, ever'
What do travel agents do when something as destructive as coronavirus hits? Do they close up shop as the demand for travel decreases, or do they find another way to promote tourism?
Ever since South Africa got its first cases of coronavirus, the travel industry has not been the same. Both international and local travellers postponed or cancelled their trips in exchange for social distancing in the comfort of their homes.
It has now left many travel agents wondering how they were going to handle this tourism hurdle. But, Jennifer Morris, the owner of Travel Savvy, believes that good travel consultants show their worth during these tough times.
“We're being told that the time of the travel professional is over and that we've been replaced by an app or the internet. However, when something goes wrong, and the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel chaos, that's when travellers want someone on their side. They want someone to work tirelessly to protect their travel plans, to keep them updated, to advise them of how they're affected, and to make all the changes where necessary.
“In the case of people already overseas, it is travel agents role to get them home safe. These are the times when travellers will be grateful that they booked with someone who cares about their well-being. These are the times when travel professionals show their true worth,” she said.
Morris acknowledged the devastating impact that covid-19 has had on the travel industry globally.
“Many businesses will close. Independent travel consultants working on commission only will be the worst off, and those working for large consortium may find their job security in jeopardy.
“We haven’t seen this scale of disruption, ever. Those of us who have saved for a rainy day may be able to weather the storm, but I fear that many travel professionals will be forced to find another way to earn a living before the crisis is over,” she added.
Makhosi Msimango, the founder and owner of Ndzenga Tours and Safari, labelled the coronavirus a “wake up call” for the travel industry.
“The coronavirus has been a wakeup call which resembles how fragile the tourism industry is. Small-medium enterprises in the industry have little support in times. The industry needs to create better mechanisms and networks to work in times of crisis,” she said. Msimango does believe that the South African travel industry, especially in the small-medium enterprises, has the tenacity to withstand the challenges thrown at them.
Modipadi Phoku, a travel agent in Johannesburg, said that her main aim during this crisis was to stay afloat.
“We're trying to survive and stay strong. We are trying to keep the business afloat.
"We're hoping it will end soon. But if not, we will have contingency plans in place,” she said.