Travel Agents

“Travel always had hiccups”: Melbourne-based agent reflects on 25 years

Colin Hood

Seasoned travel professional and Travellers Choice member Colin Hood waxes poetic on the ups and downs of his years in travel. Get ready for a nostalgia-riddled trip down memory lane…

‘Travel to excess but drink in moderation’. These were wine bottle labels I designed and had printed a few years ago. Gifts for my clients the wine was.

Now in times of COVID-19 and lockdowns, it seems everyone is drinking to excess but not travelling at all! How times change. And just like that!

But we had fun! I loved working in the travel industry. Some glamour and much travel of course but more punching keyboards and playing with your calculator.

I just loved travelling and loved passing my knowledge onto clients. It’s what I lived for. Adventure was in my blood from an early age. Scotland was my playground where I climbed, skied, cycled, paddled and hill-walked. This led to my love of adventure travel.

I specialised in walking and cycling holidays as I loved seeing the world by shank’s pony and from the saddle. I am talking in the past tense here but it applies to the future too (next year maybe).

I went to travel functions to learn more about destinations and products. Snacks, wine and catch-ups with colleagues and sales reps. I won books, hotel nights, bubbles and wine as well as crafts from around the world. There were educationals (famils) too as well as airline tickets. Friends used to tell me to get a real job. How lucky was I being paid to do my hobby?

My name was drawn out of the hat and I was off on a famil to Peru including airfares. I walked the Inca Trail. At a Nepal function, a friend and an airline sales rep won flights to Nepal. He decided it would be unfair to accept it. My name came out next. Thanks, Brad! I was going to Nepal anyway so this was a bonus. And I was upgraded to business class! One wasn’t in the game for the money but there were the perks. All for purposes of work mind you. I just loved this industry!

Technology was constantly changing. When backpacking around the world I wrote letters and aerograms and listened to my Walkman (and weighed down with lots of cassettes). Then leading Trans-Asia expeditions in the early 80s it was Poste Restante and telexes. Faxes were a godsend for a travel consultant in the late 80s.

We could receive confirmations almost instantly. Then emails arrived followed by the internet. I recently texted a photo from the Tibetan Everest Base Camp and 10,000km away it was received almost instantly. And now I am receiving Jobkeeper without talking to anyone! We almost reduced contact with other humans. I miss talking face to face with my clients.

We used to get AD75s and had to travel sub-load. Translated, we only paid 25 per cent of the fare but were on standby at the airport. However, the discount was based upon the full fare and over recent years it was much higher than the market fare. So, of course, we paid the market fare.

And travel consultants were hardly ever upgraded to business class. We wore nice clothes, we smiled at the check-in person, we presented ourselves to the airline airport manager at the service desk and we always hoped just before boarding that your name would be called out. An exit row was often the best we could get.

Payment methods changed over the years. I remember cheques and having to wait five days for clearance. I learned to never issue tickets until the funds cleared. Credit cards could be used freely as the airlines absorbed the merchant fee.

Then airlines started charging fees and people had to decide whether to gain FF points or save the fee. Credit card companies decided to offer free travel insurance but clients had to pay the merchant fee on purchases. So FF points came at a cost; there was no free lunch. Credit card companies started to offer free travel insurance. However, policies varied widely and people had to do more research.

And they did! Some of us would almost do anything for the points. More players in the market diluting our business!

In the early years we were agents, acting for airlines and principals and being paid by way of commission. In 2001 Ansett went broke and clients who had paid by credit card were able to get their money back. But the airline took our commission back as well. This meant we had to find ways of protecting our commission.

The internet dominated our lives and people could spend hours researching and booking online. Time-consuming but people were prepared for this.

We also had to change. Now we were more consultants charging for our services. It was harder to make your money but it was another challenge and fun was still being had.

And then COVID-19 spoiled this fun! Travel always had hiccups. Countries closed and countries opened, SARS interrupted us, terrorism changed our habits with many other worldwide events affecting travel.

But this pandemic has hit us for six. Travel and fun will return soon, but in the meantime, it’s time to go look for more fun work.


Featured image source: iStock/StephM2506

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