LAURA FAIRBURN DISCUSSES IF THE PANDEMIC HAS AFFECTED SERVICE WAITING TIMES
It’s no secret that the Business Travel industry has been severely affected by the pandemic. Less demand for both domestic and internal travel resulted in many travel experts being placed on the furlough scheme to ensure the longevity of our business and position us strongly going forward. This general shortage of staff has led to speculation within the wider travel industry that service times have suffered as a result. With some suggesting that the service they are receiving is currently worse than they were receiving pre-pandemic.
In preparation of the furlough scheme ending at the end of September, over the summer months we ran comprehensive training programme for all furloughed staff, gradually increasing their working days each week until we welcomed back all our travel consultants full time in October. This robust training programme helped to get them up back to speed quickly and efficiently. We recently caught up with one of our Travel Consultants, Laura Fairburn, to find out what it has been like returning to a completely different landscape that she left 18 months ago.
Laura is in a great position to tell you why the rumours around service simply don’t apply to Gray Dawes – we weren’t voted Best TMC at the recent Business Travel Awards for nothing! – and how, as company, we’ve adapted to ensure that our clients’ travel experiences haven’t been affected over the last 18 months.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF
Hello, I’m Laura, a Business Travel Consultant at Gray Dawes Travel and was born in Colchester which is the location of our head office. I have been with the business for over 6 years and was previously in our innovative technology department. This previous position gave me a great insight into all the systems I currently use on a day-to-day basis. Prior to working at Gray Dawes Travel I worked in the retail travel industry for 2 years, before making the switch to business travel.
How did you find the return to normal working hours after such a long time on Furlough?
Throughout furlough I sought other temporary employment to keep myself busy and keep my brain active. Also, throughout the pandemic Gray Dawes Travel have run training sessions and weekly ‘townhalls’ so for me returning – I didn’t find it as tough as others in the industry might have. However, my most recent temporary job was part time, so it was a hard transition back to full time, but I am enjoying being back fulltime, reconnecting with clients and colleagues doing the job that we all love.
What are your main responsibilities as a Travel Consultant?
Our main responsibilities are to ensure we cover all our clients travel needs, whether it’s a domestic flight or a full international trip with transfers, hotels, trains, parking and more. As a company we do anything for our clients to make their travel experience as seamless as possible. For the travel arrangements we have great relationships with our suppliers which enable us to get amazing fares and hotels rates which we then pass the savings onto our clients. We are available 24/7 – 365, to ensure we are always there when our clients need us the most.
What are some of the key differences with your role now compared to pre-pandemic?
Our role now is very much like before, we are still here for all our client’s needs. However now we need to provide them with slightly more information than before, we make sure they have all the entry and exit information regarding covid. With a key focus on ensuring that they are aware of the tests they need to travel, especially after the introduction of lateral flow tests, which can now be taken instead of PCRs.
Is Gray Dawes short staffed? And how do service times compare now to pre-pandemic?
There is most definitely enough staff at present for us to deliver the same level of service our clients accustomed to since returning from furlough. We are hopeful with the increase in bookings we have seen over the last few weeks, it will mean we can grow both our team and business again.
What would be the main cause for any difference in service times that our travellers may experience?
One thing that may affect our clients is when we are waiting on a supplier that has been worst hit by the pandemic. The supplier could be short staffed or be hit by a sudden increase in demand due to restriction being lifted which may affect our clients wait times. In these situations, we always ensure our clients are contacted with updates to manage expectations.
The other difference from now to pre-pandemic would be the added complexities of travelling, which means our internal processes take longer to make sure we provide our clients with everything they need upfront to avoid any surprises further down the line. For instance, if we have a client that needs to travel to a certain country, but all natural pairing flights are via a red list country then we would need to look for the best alternative travel option which may involve more time than our standard service times. But we believe this added due diligence is worth it, so our clients have peace of mind that they have all the information they need to make an informed decision about their trip and then travel without disruption.
What new technology have Gray Dawes introduced since your time on furlough to help with travel booking?
Since I was furloughed our Colchester staff has moved onto a new system, YourTrip Desktop, to make travel reservations. This new tool has streamlined our processes when it comes to making bookings. YourTrip Desktop enables us to book flights, hotels, trains, ground transportation, parking, and car hire all in one place and using the same client facing online booking tool our clients know and love.
Gray Dawes has also introduced the Traveller Toolkit which enables both us and our clients to see all the latest travel advice pre, during and post trip. The tool includes a handy traveller check list to ensure our travellers have everything they need, every step of their journey. There is also a virtual trip section which gives our customers an idea of what it is like currently to travel, we’ve had great feedback on this functionality as it alleviates some of the unknown which has effected traveller confidence.
To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip.
You’ll also find innovative and interactive virtual trips, which walk you through each step of being at the airport, on the train and in the hotel. You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.
Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.
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