‘Travel Designers found itself perfectly placed to deal with the issues arising from the Coronavirus pandemic’
Travel Designers is a London based, boutique travel agency, offering a vast array of tailor-made holidays.
Nicholas Harding-McKay, the owner and managing director of the business, made a number of important strategic decisions during 2019. Due to personal health reasons, Nick decided to ‘scale-back’ Travel Designers. He had an offer to acquire the company but decided to continue forward on a smaller scale. Therefore, he made three of his six employees redundant and gave notice to leave the business premises in Balham. Nick and his remaining two members of staff, Beverly and Kelly, were all completely set up to work from home so they were ready when the shop lease expired on 1st March 2020.
A number of colleagues and competitors have commented Nick must have been ‘psychic’ as by coincidence, rather than planning, Travel Designers found itself perfectly placed to deal with the issues arising from the Coronavirus pandemic.
By preparing to downsize anyway, Travel Designers had already cut every possible expense. Staff costs had been reduced by around 50% and the business was no longer paying rent, business rates, building insurance or any other bills. Key restructuring decisions had already been made, staff were already fully set up and used to working at home and the company was as ‘lean’ as it could possibly be.
What happened when COVID-19 hit the travel industry?
The first priority after Lockdown was introduced and the Foreign Office announced ‘essential travel only’ was for the Travel Designers team to get everyone back home to the UK. This was an enormous process and involved dealing with everyone on an individual basis and each tour operator or airline case by case.
As the business was already in a fit and healthy position to withstand the challenges ahead, the team were able to focus entirely on their clients and were available to them 24 hours of the day, seven days a week. Talking to people and keeping clients fully informed was key at all stages.
Once all the clients were safely home, Nick could have cut costs further by furloughing Beverly and Kelly but that would have affected service levels, potentially damaging future business if clients did not feel they were being fully supported through this very difficult time. Instead he decided to stop his own salary until he was sure it could be paid and his team agreed to reduce their hours. Nick has avoided having to take out Government support loans as he had already cut the business costs to the bare minimum.
The task of cancelling or rearranging all the holidays booked for departure during lockdown has also been extremely tough. The tour operators have each had a different policy and again every case has had to be handled individually.
As Nick and his team are so experienced and well known in the industry they have excellent working relationships with many key employees throughout the various tour operators and airlines. All the years of being nice to deal with and friendly paid dividends when many favours were called in. Over 90% of Travel Designers clients have achieved the solution they were looking for with regard to their travel plans. Many have moved the identical, or a similar, holiday forward to a future date and others have received a refund. The few clients that have not had the outcome they were hoping for has certainly not been for the want of trying on the side of the Travel Designers team. Some tour operators have definitely been more adaptable and understanding than others.
Having already been through the process, Nick has also found himself being asked by competitors for advice on how to set up working from home successfully and the best way to cut business costs.
How is the future looking?
Bookings are starting to come back in for 2021 but currently nowhere near the expected levels during a ‘normal’ year. The majority of clients wanting to rebook cancelled holidays for next year has massively helped cash flow as commission levels have largely remained stable. A business that had a turnover level of over £3 million a year in its best years, was lean and prepared for reduced turnover anyway. Even through Covid-19, Travel Designers has managed to break even each month and cash reserves have not had to be called upon. The reduced cost levels mean the business could survive turnover dropping as low as £500,000 a year but if it could achieve £1 million turnover Travel Designers would remain in a very healthy position.
Nick predicts there will be less Travel Agents going forward as some businesses will very sadly not be able to survive the huge impact of the pandemic on the travel industry. Many are individually owned, like Travel Designers and he feels incredibly ‘lucky’ to have been prepared for the battle by coincidence rather than design. The company was most definitely in the ‘right place at the right time’ and Nick is counting his blessings every day. He feels deeply for some of his competitors who aren’t in such a strong position.
Like the whole industry, Nick is relieved the Foreign Office ban on all but ‘essential’ travel has been lifted and some normality can begin to return. The Government’s 14 day quarantine rule for the majority of travellers back into the UK has been dramatically reduced by introducing a list of 59 ‘air bridge’ countries. Travellers will not have to quarantine when returning from those 59 countries. Social distancing in airports and on aeroplanes will be extremely difficult but hopefully it won’t be deemed necessary much longer as the infection rate continues to decrease.
If you would like help with restructuring your business to move forward from the Coronavirus pandemic please read out Kitchen Table Business Support Guide or get in touch for a free consultation.