About 13 months ago, I left the travel industry.
Having been in it as both boy and man, it was with some trepidation that I jumped ship. The icebergs, however, were well and truly looming and it’s fair to say, my timing and leap of faith were pretty good.
I describe icebergs in the plural, not because the Pandemic came in waves of life/lock-down/ half-life/half lock-down but because it was the last in a string of challenges. The last straw on the last camel.
Before continuing, allow me to comment on a flawed phrase in the first line above; ‘…the travel industry.’ Travel Industry is a misnomer and I’d argue that as an industry, it has never existed. If we take a traditional industry such as mining, we can picture a whole chain of processes that begins with extraction that connects to refining, transportation, storage and so on. Of course, the chain includes some unpalatable areas of exploitation and abuse but I’m not discussing that. Mining represents a chain that is focused on getting a product to market.
The industry of travel, to quote a close relative, has always been ‘A disparate mass of self-seeking failures from other industries who are more interested in shafting each other than anything else. They are no better than spivs that exploit war’.
How it was
I use this quote with a fairly heavy heart. When I began working in hotels, there was a joy in travelling. People would check in with the idea of exploring the location. Of course, those who arrived in groups might compare rooms and complain their friends’ room had a better view, but by and large, these things would resolve. This attitude of adventure, however, became tainted as people became blase and a sense of entitlement crept in. Subjugated colonial instincts resurfaced and the explosion in package holidays brought about an expectation that the visitor must be pandered to and that if they wanted a Full English Breakfast or ‘proper’ American Hamburger it should be on offer without any local taints.
How it changed
This attitude grew during the 1990s and I saw a growth in what was described as gold diggers; people that would grope for compensation from their trips to fund their future ventures. Another colleague referred to this as the development of Cowboy Clients.
People selling travel services reacted to the refund culture by playing the numbers game. The attitude since the turn of the century has been largely about squeezing extra money from clients coupled with applying extra pressure on colleagues along the supply chain.
We can take a cheap shot and blame the likes of Ryan Air and Easy Jet, but they weren’t the only aggressors. To be honest, I probably did it too inasmuch that as a middle person, I would hold off rooms in the same property but through different sources to a) block other people from getting that accommodation and b) would eventually buy from the cheapest supplier without reducing the sales price. My plea, however, was that this was to sustain survival rather than reap huge profits. This is a great latter-day example of how one would manipulate the industry rather than cooperate. If we had tried to cooperate, we’d have been eaten alive long before Corona Virus was a twinkle in the Wuhan eye.
I suppose I should have sought pastures new back then. Well, actually, I did, I retrained as an educator but stayed with the main gig out of a combination of cowardice and that the money, even throughout various recessions, remained good. Hard fought, but acceptable.
How will it be?
Now that the (first 2 years of ) the Pandemic are over, millions of people around the world want to travel again. A problem thwarting these ambitions is that there are too few people working in the sector. Even today, when we should be celebrating the storming of the Bastille, Heathrow Airport is bearing its’ fists at Emirates Airlines who refuse to curtail their flights. They can find the cabin crew, but Heathrow cannot find the people to administer the airport and move the luggage around.
As I said before, it’s more an unregulated cock fight than an industry. And that’s before the end-users rock up and exchange punches!
And as for me, well I’m happy to stay put until summer is over, begin my new non-travel job that is focussed on helping people and to wish my former colleagues fortitude. You’re gonna need it.