Following from my previous post, where I explained what it was like living in a safe bubble-like island with no coronavirus cases… I wanted to get a different perspective from someone working in an industry, in Guernsey, that relies on that bubble being popped, safely.
Luckily, in the UK, things are looking up for my industry in Travel PR. Clients are receiving more media coverage as journalists are able to visit their hotels and the hotels themselves are increasing occupancy. But those travellers are just from the UK, because in Guernsey it’s a different story.
There’s no confusing ever-changing list of destinations that islanders can and can’t travel to. There’s still a 2-week quarantine restriction on wherever you land from on this small island of 67,000 that thrives on hospitality and tourism. It’s a sector that’s been massively hit. And as an island of keen travellers eager to escape the safe haven and find excitement in far flung communities and cultures, travel agents usually thrive here too. But with isolation requirements such as those in Guernsey. It’s tough.
So to find out what it’s like living and working in a place that has such restrictions, I spoke to Personal Leisure Travel Counsellor, Chris Roberts, who co-owns the Travel Counsellor’s Franchise in Guernsey.
When did you first notice Covid-19 would have an effect on your work?
The affects of Covid-19 crept up slowly for the travel agency side of our industry in Guernsey, my first experience was concerns for clients travelling to China, cancellations and refunds, followed by briefings for other clients travelling to or through Asia as it spread to other countries. Of course there were other concerns at that time – European travel post-Brexit being one, but one particular client, who we later had to rescue, was briefed on coronavirus whilst we delivered their tickets.
Was this new to you? Warning of potential dangers?
It wasn’t new. These particular clients we briefed on forest fires in Australia before they left and also about flooding in New Zealand the day they arrived, all in a days work as we say! I’ve been in the retail travel industry for over four decades, and have seen a lot, from volcanic ash clouds to a tsunami, from 911 to increasing tour operator failures and the most airline failures in aviation history during 2019. But little had prepared me for the global impact and the sad loss of life, stretched resources and a stop of all travel the World over, which has been devastating in so many ways.
What did you have to do to help?
So as cancellations were made, clients rescued from far flung corners of the World with virtually nothing available, working and even calling clients at all hours of the day and night in order to achieve getting everyone home, assisting with insurance claims, refunds (our company have given over 30 Mil in refunds now), to customer service swapping our clients plans to next year, it’s been a busy time. But I consider myself lucky, many of my industry colleagues and friends have been made redundant or furloughed, but despite no salary since this started we have had purpose and have never closed, having our clients to look after.
My colleagues at Travel Counsellors I have to say have been very inspiring and mood lifting, with Facebook chat groups sharing funny stories, to keep fit and Rate my Plate, for those brave enough to share images of their meals for colleagues to comment on. I was also very fortunate as Travel Counsellors being a large agency and tour operator in numerous countries had extensive resources, with training and staff available round the clock to assist us. We even won the Queens Award for Enterprise whilst all this was happening.
And lastly, in your opinion, should Guernsey mirror the UK introducing travel corridors?
Conflicted is the feeling currently. I’m pleased my UK colleagues have something to sell and clients there who wish to travel can do so, do I want something to sell? Well when it’s safe yes. My clients many of whom have become friends and quite a few elderly I care for greatly and I don’t want them going anywhere until we know travel and the destinations I sell are safe. So with our borders potentially closed beyond even the 1st September, we are happy in our bubble and we watch eagerly for further air bridges and the new normal being workable, so we can have all experience the joy that travel brings us all once again.