Looking forward to packing a suitcase

The tourist industry is in turmoil making it hard for me to blog about exotic destinations while we are all staying at home.

My trips are usually for ‘work’, something I get a lot of stick about from friends and family. I admit they are mostly great fun, hugely enjoyable and I feel very privileged. They are not without hard work though, and there is a constant pressure to report back to readers in a fair and informative way.

Packing a suitcaseLike most travel writers, my trips are lined up throughout the year and it feels very strange to have empty months stretching ahead.

Unusually this year, due to my husband Clive finally taking retirement, travel was mostly personal trips. Therefore I am in the same boat as the rest of the world in having to sort out refunds and rebooking. The first cancellation was a very special cruise with Fred. Olsen to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. I am pleased to report the cancellation process has been painless with a full refund promised, or the chance to rebook later with a 25% bonus.

Next, another personal holiday to Northumberland in April. I booked with Hoseasons and again have been offered the chance to postpone. A self-catering break doesn’t sound so exciting when you realise you will actually have to self-cater, as all the restaurants and pubs will be closed. As each day unfolds I can see this too will not go ahead as planned.

A family trip to Northern Spain, for my nephew’s much anticipated family wedding in June, looks highly unlikely. So many couples are having weddings and celebrations affected and this is so sad. We booked this trip as separate elements; a flight only, plus car hire and hotel. We shall see how we get along with refunds.

Sally DowlingAnother multi-generational family celebration, this time to Florida in August. We have two very worried grandchildren who are watching developments with bated breath.

Lastly a long transatlantic cruise on the Spirit of Discovery, Saga Cruises’ sparkling new ship. This is in September so let’s hope Boris is correct when he hopes it will all be over in 12 weeks.

I realise I am very fortunate to travel so much, and I have great sympathy for the many people who are missing out on their ‘holidays of a lifetime’. All we can do is hang onto the thought that we will get back to normal and will be able to continue our travels.

Just to add – some companies are dealing with cancellations better than others.

I have worked in the industry all my life, in call centres, a long spell in operations and also time in customer services. It was challenging sometimes; weather is unpredictable, and customers don’t like it when their holidays are affected. Sally Dowling as Continental Airlines stewardess in 1985Many times while at Pan Am and Continental Airlines passengers felt I should know when fog would lift or when the snow would melt. My years working for a tour operator were made ‘interesting’ when pesky hurricanes came along and guests needed to be evacuated from hotels. One client shouted at me relentlessly for upgrading his hotel (at no extra cost to him) as his wife didn’t have suitable clothes for a more upmarket property.

Now we have the biggest disruption to travel in our lifetime. My heart goes out to people whose plans are ruined but I am also overwhelmingly sympathetic to the thousands of staff in the industry who have to sort it all out.

I have seen some very unkind remarks on social media about ‘rude uncaring staff’, telephones that aren’t answered, websites crashing due to unprecedented hits, and most of all – lack of information.

I want to put in a word for these staff and highlight that the majority care deeply about their clients. They are working crazy hours to answer huge, and I mean huge, volumes of calls. Their offices are not set up for such an influx and more trained staff can’t just be plucked out of the air. Many work on commission and they aren’t getting much of that right now. Covid-19 is not their fault and the situation is changing hour by hour. Decisions of how companies are going to react are made at a very high level, not by call centre staff. They can only work on what they have been told at the time. It may be one thing one day, and something different the next.

So please, whatever your frustrations, don’t get angry with travel staff, they are doing their best.

Meanwhile – stay well Silver Travellers and let’s look forward to better times when we can dust off our suitcases and dig out our passports.

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Sally Dowling

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