Working in the travel industry, while stressful at times, was incredibly rewarding. I had many opportunities to travel and meet people from all over the world.
I worked in the industry for 15 years, and while I saw some ups and downs, I have never seen anything on the scale of the crisis created by COVID-19 pandemic.
When news of the virus first broke, it was seen as an issue that only affected travel to China. Everything at that point was still business as usual. That was until the virus spread and the number of new cases rose across the world.
Each country started to implement measures to try and curtail the spread of COVID-19. We started to see countries refusing to issue entry visas, and even some border closures.
People started cutting their travel plans short to return home. Others were wondering where they stood in regards to trips that they had paid but had been cancelled. Within a week we went from travel restrictions to all travel grinding to a halt.
Even before the dust settled, airlines, hotels and tour providers – many owned by huge multi-nationals companies – began crying poor. They began advising customers that money already paid would not be refunded, and that those affected by bans would instead be offered credits.
While the credit can be used to re-instate a booking at a later date, extra re-booking fees were being charged. The big operators decided that there was money to be made out of people’s misfortune.
With people cancelling travel plans, and very few bookings coming in, business slowed significantly. I knew it was only a matter of time before my job would be affected.
But it came a lot quicker than any of us thought. We were given just 24 hours notice that we were being sacked. They told us this was to ‘future proof’ the business. As all of us sat back concerned and worried about our future.
Almost as if to console us, we were told that management would also be affected, taking a 10% cut to their salaries. As my job, and means to support my family blew up in front of me, it felt like a punch in the guts hearing about the bosses taking the most minor of cuts.
I was not prepared for the ruthless way in which myself and my coworkers were sacked. Trying to go about our jobs we sat there waiting to be tapped on the shoulder and taken into the boardroom where were told that our services were no longer required.
We were provided with very little time to gather our possessions and say goodbye to our friends before we were asked to leave the premises. We felt used and cast aside.
Sitting on my balcony at the end of the day I was trying to wrap my head around everything that had happened. I worried about how I would pay my bills. Then I was interrupted by a google alert on my phone: “Travel Company cuts staff by at least 60% as share price soars”.
It was a short sharp lesson is how capitalism works, and one I will never forget.
By Matthew Howe