Are you like us and wondering when we'll be able to get travelling overseas again?

If you are then spare a thought for those working in the travel industry who are having those exact same thoughts, just with a whole lot more urgency.

Few industries have been spared the wrath of Covid-19, but few have been harder hit than the travel industry who have not only been feeling the pain since early 2020, but will be feeling the Covid-19 effects for a long time to come. 

Owners of iTalk Travel at Maitland & The Junction - Karen, Julia and Mark Van Huisstede, have lived through their fair share of disruptions within the industry – the collapse of Ansett, 9/11, the Bali bombings, the GFC, Tsunamis, Nuclear explosions, to name but a few, however as Julia explains, Covid-19 is beyond what any of them could have ever imagined.

“The travel industry has just been annihilated. All of our suppliers have been reduced to minimum staff, and most of our reps have been stood down. Will these companies ever be able to afford to put a rep on the road and pay for cars, petrol and accommodation, to then travel to whatever travel agents left in the country? and that’s not even the current concern, which is, how do we survive until we get to that point that we can visualise being viable as an industry again.”

Travelling to Singapore in early February, Julia said it was evident then that something was wrong, with temperature check stations set up everywhere and Changi Airport a ghost town.

“From a business perspective we’ve been feeling the loss since mid-January, and since January we’ve had over 7 million dollar’s worth of business cancel.”
“We could tell people were starting to get nervous about travelling early in 2020, particularly to Asia, and sales were decreasing rapidly, we were down by at least 30% in January and February.”

“The other challenge our business faces is that even if international borders were to open early next year, and people consider booking holidays in December to begin traveling in August/September 2021, that’s another 9 months we’ll need to work with no income, as we only realise our commission the month prior to client traveling. Sustaining the business for this length of time, with no support, is going to be tough.”

“I was listening to someone talk about the music industry and how they will be one of the first to stop and one of the last to start and we’re exactly the same, if not worse. It really is a disaster.”

“I've started studying online to become a TAFE teacher to train the trade that’s dying (Julia laughs). Both myself and Karen are still working in the office each day, we aren’t in a position to get another job at the moment, even if we wanted to, because today I need to cancel another five holidays, and go through airline policies which are changing constantly.”

As Julia details the enormity of the situation and the toll it has taken not only on their business but them personally, it’s hard not to feel total sadness, not just for their business but for the industry as a whole. Having lived through, and come out the other side of so many previous natural and man-made disasters we wanted to know if Julia see a future in the travel industry beyond Covid-19?

“There is definitely a future for travel. Experiencing cultures is human nature and people will want to travel again. There are a lot of challenges ahead but it will return and we will be here when that happens.“

“When it does recover, however, I think the industry will have changed quite a lot, it will need to become a lot more streamlined, and have a lot less product. As an industry I feel like we have imploded, there is so much noise and product online.”

“I feel that those online travel agencies who make minimal commission will no longer exist and I also believe people will become more cautious about what they book, your Club Meds and coach touring will be more popular as will your tailored independent holidays, which is a good thing.”

“I also expect to see airline fares going up in price, so there will be less travellers but the value of the booking will be higher, which will keep the airlines and travel agents a float.”

With little positive news to share when I asked Julia where she sees herself and the business in the future Julia was surprisingly optimistic.

“I love the travel industry, that’s why I’ve been doing this for 20 years and for Karen it’s closer to 30 years. It’s worth fighting for, which is why I am channelling my energy into what I think is positive which is trying to be a voice for the industry, to speak up and hopefully get some support from the government to help us stay in business.”

“We’ve got a lot of decisions to make as to what the future of our business will look like, but we’re all trying to stay positive and I am such an optimist, I am an adaptor and I embrace change, I always have, we just have to survive until things turn around.”

“If I had to sum things up, and putting all the doom and gloom aside, our business is worth fighting for, we love it and we are so passionate about it.”