Interview: Ellen Walker of Travel Editions on the impact of Covid-19

Interview with Ellen Walker, pictured.
Ellen Walker of Travel Editions with happy GTOs in Crete and inset.

I recently caught up with Ellen Walker, Business Development Manager and groups specialist for Travel Editions about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the company, and how she sees the future.

How was Travel Editions initially affected by the virus? Did you have any particular difficulties – were any clients or staff members stuck abroad and unable to get back? 

‘I think the best analogy is that a fire broke out which turned from a slow burn to a full blown raging wildfire that overtook the whole forest – and we were there at the front fighting it!

We started to cancel tours whilst some were still overseas so also had to adapt on the ground to closures and changes as they happened and ensure everyone got home safely. At this point I really have to pay tribute to our passengers who were so stoical, our tour managers and also the local staff in hotels, coach drivers and local guides, who, without exception went over and above to look after our clients.

I was actually in Portugal at the time with my father under a state of emergency. I cannot praise both the Portuguese and British Airways enough for their care. Eventually got my father and myself back to Edinburgh under one of the most surreal 24 hrs I can remember! The downside is I am still in Edinburgh. I went from a state of emergency to full lockdown and have not been home since 9th March!’

How have customers re-arranged their plans? How has it been for yourself and your colleagues, and what has been the response of customers to the situation?

By June we will have had to postpone nearly 150 tours across 12 weeks. Normally, the very most we have to cancel in any one year are 20 and that tends to be due to low uptake, so, yes, it has been hectic!

Nearly all tours have been postponed to new dates – mainly in 2021 – and it has been a Herculean effort to get them set up. Passengers have on the whole been extremely understanding and moved to the new dates. Communication has been key, and also being honest about the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in. I think we have to look at it as a few months’ break in tour operating and hope that we can start enjoying travel again as soon as it is safely possible to do so, whilst adhering to any guidelines and regulations put into place to enable that to happen. Our trade associations, ABTA and AITO have been providing an exemplary support network and issuing guidelines for us all to work to while also ensuring that the consumer is safeguarded.’

How will Travel Editions adapt? Are you optimistic for the future?

‘As a company we were quite technologically advanced anyway, so the move to working from home for some staff was not too difficult as the systems were all in place already. Who would have thought that IT and Social Media would be such a mainstay of any travel company a couple of months ago?!

I am an optimist by nature, and talking to as many people as I do does mean that I feel hopeful about the future and am aware of how keen people are to start travelling again, once it is safe to do so. In my lifetime we have had to adapt to many changes in travel. Remember when smoking was the norm on a plane? I cannot even envisage that today!  

I am sure people will adapt just as they have done to every change, such as the security checks for hand luggage and liquid restrictions after 9/11 which we just regard as normal today. It may take some getting used to and a flexible approach, but I have confidence that everyone will adjust and then we can all start to enjoy travelling again.’