Bookings are coming, says Cork travel agent, ‘but it’s a trickle’

‘There is a pent-up demand out there. We have transferred 70% of our bookings into 2021’

‘When the economy crashed back in 2008/2009 there was still a bit of business going on. Now there is little to no business going on.’ Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

‘When the economy crashed back in 2008/2009 there was still a bit of business going on. Now there is little to no business going on.’ Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

During a 46-year career, Michael Doorley, who owns Shandon Travel on Cork’s Grand Parade, has seen many crises: recessions, terrorism, even an ash cloud from an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland.

Today, the Tipperary-born travel agent is staying calm while others fret.“Travel agents by and large are good business people. It could be a terrorism act, or currency things years ago. You name it, we just get through it.”

“We have gone through all sorts of things. Ash clouds, the collapse of the economy, then the internet was supposed to wipe us out. But this is different,” he says.

The former Irish Travel Agent of the Year says agents have received only a “trickle of sales” over the last three months, though bookings in greater numbers began to come through from three weeks ago.

“They have been to Majorca. Believe it or not, [there were] some cruises, Lapland at Christmas time, the Canary Islands and a couple of honeymoons. Whether there was a wedding or not, they are going somewhere,” he went on.

Nevertheless, it is nothing more than “a trickle going through” compared with normal volumes: “When the economy crashed back in 2008/2009 there was still a bit of business going on. Now there is little to no business going on.”

Like others in the travel trade, Doorley wants greater clarity in messaging from the Government about whether people should travel, or not. Without it, travel agents are between “a rock and a hard place”.

However, he understands the difficulties facing the Government: “[It] is in a hard place as well because they have to keep Covid under control, but they also have to keep airlines in the sky.

“There needs to be access for business people and people coming into the country, as well as going out. It is a difficult balance,” says Doorley, who reopened his offices last Monday, though staff worked from home since March.

Paying tribute to the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, he said he “has succeeded in levelling the virus and keeping it under control in Ireland”, so “why would you change what has been successful?.

“I know I am talking against people doing a lot of travel, but at the same time that will pass. People love travelling. People will travel again. They will travel when they feel more comfortable travelling,” he went on.

“[What] Most of what my staff are doing at the minute is changing arrangements to put holidays to later this year or to put them out to 2021. Now for the last three weeks we have seen bookings coming through.”

Staff trip

Next week, he is sending one of his 26 staff on an exploratory trip to the Canary Islands to draw up a step-by-step guide for customers on what to expect on the way there and back.

For now, the majority of bookings are being made by young people: “The younger generation are unafraid. The majority of bookings going in to Ryanair are from the younger people. Naturally the senior population are more reticent about travelling.”

Though he is as philosophical as anyone can be, business is not easy: “You have little to no income coming in and you have overheads going out. You have to control the overheads more rigidly than ever before till business cranks up again.”

However he is hopeful about 2021: “There is a pent-up demand out there. We have transferred 70 per cent of our bookings into 2021. That business is already in the bag. Travel agents can look forward to a solid year in 2021.”