Many travel agency branches across Northern Ireland have now reopened, after the Executive announced that non-essential retail stores could begin to open their doors from June 12.
Many are now operating with a reduced staff capacity and all have the appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
And the reopens couldn’t have come at a better time, as the government is expected to announce which countries will be included in the ‘air bridge’ scheme on June 29.
The ‘air bridge’ measures would allow tourists from two countries to travel freely back and forth without needing to self-isolate for 14-days so many travel agents may soon be finding themselves in high demand!
Congratulating those agents who have successfully returned to their offices, Peter McMinn from Travel Solutions said: “The resilience of our travel agency partners over the past twelve weeks is a credit to each and every one of them, and it is encouraging that many have returned to their offices.
“Not only does it allow agents to work in a more structured way, but it also sends out an extremely positive message to their customers that they are open for business.”
Peter continued: “Those agents who have opened their offices this week and last, are to be congratulated, and I would encourage those who are still hesitant to speak with their colleagues who have successfully opened.
“It is vitally important that as we move out of lockdown, and travel returns to some sort of normality, agents make it easier for their customers to book. Telephone calls and zoom appointments can only be temporary measure – we all know that face to face advice and recommendations is what has made our retail shops so strong in the past.”
The Travel Solutions team returned to their offices on June 1.
Richard Cooper, Carefree Travel said: “We are open again! We are open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4pm with a small team in place at the start.
“We have had many messages from regular customers sending best wishes and thanking us for refunds and we are looking forward to having are customers in the office again, even though it will be behind a screen.
“Even though we have been working away behind the scenes during lock down it’s a bit like going back to school on 1st September each year!
“We all have our fingers crossed for good news in relation to the ending of quarantine soon.”
Sandra Corkin from Oasis Travel said: “We decided to start Phase 1 of our re-opening from Tuesday June 16 until June 30, with just two staff in each branch. We are opening from 10am – 2pm Monday to Saturday.
“The offices have been deep cleaned and a social distance policy is in place. We also have posters and floor stickers to advise customers of this policy. Hand sanitisers are in place and each desk has a glass screen.
“Phase 2 of our opening starts July 1. We plan to open for more hours with additional staff who will work on a part-time basis whilst we still take advantage of the furlough scheme.”
Hazel Simpson from Limavady Travel said: “We were allowed to open on June 12. We put on Facebook that we were offering appointments and on our first day we had two appointments with customers which led to two bookings.
“We are getting bookings for September, October and November, not just for next year. It’s been busy on the high street since we opened and it’s nice to back in the ‘new normal’.
“I’ve brought back one member of staff part-time so far. Normally we are four full‑time staff and one part-timer. The other girls are still furloughed,” Hazel added.
Jackie Geddis from Hays Travel added: “NI Hays Travel stores are now open. We have arranged the PPE and are now open to the public.”
Jason Calvin from Thompson Travel International invoked legendary author Mark Twain in summing up what the local trade is feeling right now: “The best way to get ahead is to get started.”