Mental health top of mind

BY Jenny Cooper

Dear travel industry,

How’s life treating you, the travel agent the agency owner, the small business owner, the BDM, the supplier?

With the opportunity to travel and see the world and the many lifelong friendships that are made we can feel truly blessed.

Certainly those on the outside looking see view us that way, in a wonderful industry. But I can’t help but wonder at what cost?

Amidst the glitz & glamour, to me I see a worriment, a quandary, a tender spot that is going unnoticed, and I’d like to take the time to draw your attention to it.

There is day after day of online vs agent, agency undercutting agency. Everyone in a grab to get the booking, secure the booking, deposit the booking.

We experience unforseen, unacceptable time changes from airlines — with a schedule change we have to spend at least a full day revalidating tickets, generating new e-tickets, calling wholesalers advising of the change, speaking to clients about their concerns and potentially finding alternative options for our dozens of affected customers.

What a ridiculous concept right? Doing hours of work to fix something that is entirely outside of our control? What if the shoe was on the other foot and the client wanted to change their flight time? Well then airline change fees are outrageous.

We experience day after day of cancelled tours. If it’s not financially viable for the coach company to run the tour, well don’t have as many departures. Agents become reluctant to book anything other than a preferred departure. (But try convincing your client to go a week later on their holiday.) Then there are the cancelled cruises, move over offers, low water, high water.

Regular visits from airline BDMs or sales managers are becoming a thing of the past, and commissions have dropped along with the support.

These days, travel agents fear making mistakes on flight bookings because they can cost hundreds of dollars to rectify. The lack of compassion from some airlines or wholesale companies is also an issue. Agents literally have to beg to get a genuine error fixed and ask for the fee to be waived, which is not always done.

As the rules for each airline’s fares grow more complicated, it is easy to miss something and make a genuine mistake. Every airlines’ fares are different, and agents are expected to know so much now. For agents in shopfront locations with a client sitting in front of them, it puts us under a lot of pressure.

And don’t get me started on the wholesale side of BDMs. Once you get to know one, they have slipped through what seems like a revolving door into another company.

It seems like the title of BDM is misleading too. Business Development Manager is what they are called but when asked how do they intend to help you grow your business or if they have a business plan, the majority of most who don’t know what that is.

I know they are under huge stress to meet sales targets, get agencies on board. It means long hours, sometimes seven days a week, brand expos, famils, at home phone calls. The list can be endless. No wonder it’s a revolving door of business cards from BDMs.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. We have excellent relationships with our preferred partners and I don’t want anyone to read malice into my comments — I mean no harm. But I think that it is important for all of us in the industry to acknowledge the toll that stress can take on individuals, no matter where they are in the supply chain.

What a brilliant career choice this has been over the years and one that despite all the changes, frustration and resistance, I still love.

I love the joy that I bring to my beautiful clients when they arrive home from their amazing holiday. I love the corporate clients, despite their untold changes and demands, and the revenue they bring our business.

I just don’t love the mental pressure all of it puts on me, my co-workers, my husband and my family.

I applaud TravelManagers and their partnership with PeopleSense. We should all take a leaf from their book.

All of us in the travel industry may not be aware of what mental state any of us are in, be it work or our personal lives.

Mental health is now at the forefront to my priorities, and it should be for you too.

Jenny Cooper, together with her husband Jim, is the owner and operator of Queanbeyan City Travel & Cruise. Jenny has seen a great deal of success in her career, with her agency winning the Readers’ Choice Award from International Traveller magazine and Best Retail Travel Agency of the Year at the NTIAs. Her favourite place to visit is New York and she would love to visit Antarctica.

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