Stress, sleepless nights and calls for compassion from travel agent
Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's local weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.
Australia’s inbound, outbound and domestic tourism industries have ground to a halt after countries across the world shut their borders to travellers and the federal government imposed strong isolation restrictions.
Emma Coburn is an independent travel agent who owns Eat Pray Love Travel and has been servicing the Ararat community for over twelve months, booking personal and business trips to locations within Australia and across the world.
She says the last three months have been “trying” as she works unpaid to cancel, reschedule and return travellers from international locations.
The government restrictions introduced to flatten the curve have resulted in the suspension of all forms of travel. For Mrs Coburn, it means that all the bookings that she’s spent the last year working on have had to be undone, from start to finish.
“I've been lucky my customers are very considerate, they are trying to postpone their trips. So, instead of cancelling everything I have been contacting the hotels and seeing if they're willing to move the accommodation to a different date,” she said.
“I take everything to heart so for me, my customer’s money is my money and I don't want to lose anyone's money in the long run.”
Mrs Coburn said most of her suppliers have been willing to alter accommodation dates, and airlines have introduced Fee Waiver policies. The dates covered by such policies continue to be pushed back as the pandemic continues.
“I am looking at anything after the 31st of July [and] I'm sort of advising my customers to wait and see what happens,” she said.
“Not saying that the world's going to be back to normal by then because it probably isn't. But at the moment, a lot of the waiver fees and everything is only up until that 31st of July.”
As well as managing her client’s upcoming trips, Mrs Coburn has had the responsibility of safely returning locals from all corners of the globe.
“The day that the government announced that they were locking down the borders of Australia, I had a customer in Uganda,” she said.
Mrs Coburn had a phone call from the client’s family the next morning, saying that they needed him home “now”. She spent a whole day working out how to get him back to Australia before restrictions were enforced.
She managed to organise the trip home last minute but once her client got to Singapore his next flight was cancelled.
“We then had to get onto Qantas and get it reissued. He ended up flying Singapore, Sydney to Melbourne and he did get home just in time for the lockdown at nine o'clock on the Friday night,” she said.
“It was a stressful couple of days that one. I had a lot of sleepless nights. March seemed to drag on forever.”
Mrs Coburn urged people to be considerate of their travel agents who are now working for free to reschedule trips. Recent national news reports pointing the finger at those in the industry as the bad guys has left her disappointed.
“We get paid a percentage of what the customer pays, we get paid that back in commissions, but it's not received until the trip’s actually happened,” she said.
“I just think people need to be a bit more considerate of people's time and realise the amount of work that it does take to put some of these trips together. It's not an easy job.”