We are all aware of how devastating COVID-19 has been on bricks and mortar agencies, but how are home-based, mobile agents faring?
Somewhat better than stores who are burdened with greater overheads. Nevertheless, their short terms prospects are just as dire.
While some home-based agents have gone into hibernation, others have had to find part-time work outside of the industry.
Read on to find out how five of Itravel’s mobile agents are embracing the change below:
Have you reduced your costs?
Jade: My marketing budget has boosted somewhat. However, all other products and items that were for promo and the like are not in the budget.
Lyndall: Working from home, I felt I was lucky not to have large financial commitments such as rent and staff. Generally, my outgoings would be advertising, stationery, client gifts which I have not had expenses for the last few months.
Megan: Yes, most definitely. I have really looked at all costs associated with the business and made a new budget for the coming year. However, I still need to advertise and will spend more on that side of my business than planned.
Geoff: Working from home and as a mobile agent I have very little overheads – that’s one of the benefits – so my main cost reduction was to talk to Telstra on my phone/internet account, which was reduced slightly.
Have you found another job in the short term?
Jade: I found one back start of March when everything went to the pooper. I posted on small business Facebook page to check other small business’ capacity for taking someone on and landed a social media marketing job handling socials for businesses.
Gemma: No, my business is still functioning albeit far less than before. I have offered my services within the industry as a consultant.
Lyndall: I have started a part-time job with the Department of Education working in the office at a high school. While it is very different and a lot to learn, I am enjoying keeping busy and the interaction with others.
Megan: No. I am still working through the refunds, but my days are more structured now. And that frantic few months where we were running on all engines has definitely subsided, like getting clients home quickly with borders closing and being on call 24 hours. But I have had some new bookings for 2021 in the Kimberley, which has been lovely.
Geoff: No, as I’m on JobKeeper.
How are you keeping up with your bills?
Jade: Have had to stop my mortgage, along with a couple of other bills that are harder to fund.
Gemma: I’m still turning enough profit to survive. Plus, I’ve always banked my earnings for a rainy day.
Lyndall: The additional government assistance has helped.
Megan: I have been able to manage this in the budget – the JobKeeper has been an enormous help with taking the pressure off. Also, [I’m] extremely thankful for Itravel keeping us up to date and relevant with the procedures on how and where, as this was all new to us.
Geoff: The moment the COVID-19 restrictions were put into place, I spoke to our bank and explained the situation, our home mortgage and business loan were placed on hold for 10 months. We spoke to every utility service to arrange some form of delayed payment or reduced rate. When we mentioned our business is a travel agency, everyone was very sympathetic. We cut out every luxury we enjoyed prior to COVID-19 and looked at our spending habits. No dinners out, no excessive waste and buying only what is really needed – the splurge now is a take away from our favourite local restaurants and have done this at least once a week to keep everyone positive.
Is your mental health okay in this COVID climate?
Jade: It’s been a tough go since the start of the year – a major wholesaler went into liquidation, costing some consultants tens of thousands of dollars to keep their clients’ current travel plans running smoothly, and trying to recoup the costs. I have not been able to recoup any yet. Keeping busy with my other job, maintaining my fitness and staying front of mind for all my clients within socials and zoom catch-ups help.
Gemma: I think everyone has had challenges, but I really feel like I’ve found some peace and direction in adversity (after the initial freak out). It shows you that when the chips are down, you just need to adapt and find new solutions that work for you. I’ve taken the time to work on my personal direction and that has, in turn, improved my outlook and kept the ideas flowing.
Lyndall: No! In the initial stages of COVID, I was busy trying to return clients from overseas, following up with clients due to travel and subsequently cancelling clients’ holidays, which meant I didn’t have time to take it all in. After a month of knowing my business was no longer thriving, the joy I have when booking client’s holidays had gone, and with no idea how long the situation would last, it was very disheartening. I struggled being at home, still working hard on cancelling bookings with no reward of not only an income, but was missing the excitement shared with clients when securing their dream holiday. Four months on and the refunds are steadily coming in, the phone has stopped ringing and I have now come to terms with the enormity of the worldwide crisis.
Megan: There were some low days and did I have a good cry, but who wouldn’t be feeling this? It was more of a shock seeing our world crumble. I mainly am a positive person, checking in on my friends and colleagues and making sure they are all doing okay was a priority for me. Being a mum and having my family at home when we were in lockdown, the dynamics changed in our house with school and work. We all needed to adjust, but we have, and it’s made us stronger. But, I do feel I am supported in all areas – home, work, life – so a great balance.
Geoff: Yes, I realised COVID has affected everyone, every family and household and this was beyond my control. I take each day as it comes, I exercise two to three hours every day and work on staying positive. I work in the office most days and try to keep my pre-COVID-19 routine. I avoid most news broadcasts, as they only promote fear-mongering and that’s not great for anyone’s spirits. I feel the media’s negativity has created a “bash the travel agent” mentality and this isn’t fair.
What tips do you have to keep your spirits high and manage your business through this time?
Jade: Continue to connect with your clients on a one-on-one basis via Zoom or via coffee (with social distancing measures in place, of course) to keep front of mind. Even when issuing refunds, I get my clients on a Zoom chat and do it face to face so they can see that it’s being done. Continue to study, continue to learn more about Australia (at this stage) and work on your skills within those realms. Social media – this is a must. Show you never stop. Show you never stop trying to find them the holiday they can have, and still be amazing.
Lyndall: I have lent on my family, friends and colleagues. Fellow industry contacts understand the situation and I have found comfort in those contacts with sharing stories. We understand each other’s daily struggles while sharing stories.
Megan: I have kept myself positive with playing golf again and networking with my contacts at my club. I also never had the time to write a newsletter pre-COVID, and wow, that sure did work! I have received such lovely feedback and it was a genuine letter I sent, checking on my clients but also letting them know I am okay.
Geoff: I have spoken to/emailed every client with an update and re-assuring them I will still be here on the other side of this disaster. It gave me an opportunity to look at how I was working and gave me a chance to modify some of my practices and day to day operations. It forced me to work more efficiently and have a closer contact relationship with my clients. It’s taught me I need to be flexible and source new avenues to expand my client base. I feel being a mobile agent working from home has given me an advantage, as I control my workload and am my own boss. In a way, I have enjoyed that reset button, but feel very frustrated that our industry was turned off overnight with no warning, no backup, no assistance and, collectively as an industry group, we were beaten and bashed by the travelling public and the media simultaneously, which wasn’t fair. We had no control over what happened and we all worked for up to 12 months to get 2020 itineraries set up and ready to go, only to have them all cancelled and most (if not all) profits and income to be returned to those clients who cancelled. No other industry has been affected so hard mentally and financially.
Featured image source: iStock/PeopleImages