How CQ travel agent manages new COVID-19 reality

Noble Horvath

TRAVEL expert Debbie Rains knows all too well the commercial implications attached to worldly disasters for the multi-billion dollar industry. As both owner and manager of Rockhampton’s Travel Associates, Ms Rains weathered first-hand the economic fallout following the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, the uncertainty in the three months following […]

TRAVEL expert Debbie Rains knows all too well the commercial implications attached to worldly disasters for the multi-billion dollar industry.

As both owner and manager of Rockhampton’s Travel Associates, Ms Rains weathered first-hand the economic fallout following the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks.

However, the uncertainty in the three months following the attacks, she admitted, helped better prepare the business should another disaster strike.

What she did not prepare for were the nights spent worrying over which of her 40-strong team – some of whom have been with her for 25 years – would face termination amid a global pandemic.

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HORRIFIC: Debbie Rains says terrorist attacks allowed her to better prepare for another disaster.

HORRIFIC: Debbie Rains says terrorist attacks allowed her to better prepare for another disaster.

Ms Rains owns and operates six agencies across Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton.

“I’ve been in the travel industry for quite some time and been through what I thought was everything possible – the Bali bombings, the GFC.”

“[9/11] fundamentally stopped travel completely because nobody knew what was going to happen. That lasted about probably three months thereabouts,” said Ms Rains.

In today’s climate, however, she admits the business has copped its fair share of hardships – though she refuses to play the victim.

“In the past we’ve never had any support by way of JobKeeper or the grants that were fortunately on offer for this occasion.”

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TOUGH TIMES: A number of staff at Travel Associates lost their jobs amid COVID-19 shutdowns.

TOUGH TIMES: A number of staff at Travel Associates lost their jobs amid COVID-19 shutdowns.

The financial lifelines allowed Ms Rains to rehire some of the staff she was earlier forced to let go.

While keeping afloat weighed heavily on her mind, her concern was moreso for the many clients who faced being stranded overseas amid tight border closures.

It was then the team used its personal time to inform travellers of the devastating news – setting in motion months of sleepless nights and difficult conversations.

“Our clients are scattered all over the world in different time zones, and it’s a big call if you’re just starting a holiday to pack up and think about coming home.”

GROUNDED: International travel is one of the industries to be hit hard amid COVID-19.

GROUNDED: International travel is one of the industries to be hit hard amid COVID-19.

“We probably only got our last person back not that long ago – just through circumstances they were in India and couldn’t get to a major airport,” Ms Rains said.

Despite beliefs the industry had fallen on its sword, agents have worked tirelessly to ensure new travel arrangements were made.

“We’ve had to take bookings to pieces, and on some occasions rebook three to four times.”

“All the travel that we’ve organised for people which has been held in credit, we’ll have to do all that work again for the same commissions amount of money.”

Ms Rains said clients had responded well through open and honest conversation when informed a refund was not possible.

REBOUND: Travellers are exploring intrastate options as the industry commences its long recovery.

REBOUND: Travellers are exploring intrastate options as the industry commences its long recovery.

“As an agent we act for this supplier or operator, so we’ll take the money off the clients and pass it on to the suppliers or operators. We don’t keep the money in our bank accounts.”

While travel rates are well below average, an interest in intrastate travel has provided a modest boost to the agency.

Ms Rains further called upon members of the community to support local businesses during the trying time.

“We employ local people, we provide jobs to the community, we give back to our local community, we sponsor lots of community and sporting events.”

“We’re resilient, we will be here at the end of it all, but it’s just been quite painful along the way.”

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