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    BACK IN BUSINESS: Helloworld Horsham staff, from left, Kate Janetzki, Leanne O’Connor, Chris Buwalda and Kelly Miller are back in the office as Wimmera people again plan to explore the world. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Travel agents see light at end of COVID-19 tunnel

By Michael Scalzo

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and Wimmera people again look to the skies, travel business staff in Horsham are seeing brighter days ahead. 

Travel agencies were one of the first and obvious victims of lockdowns in 2020 and as international and state borders closed, many agencies did too.

But Horsham travel agency Hello-world team member Leanne O’Connor said the business and staff were seeing the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as borders reopened and flights resumed. 

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She said her clients had all been very understanding during the past two-and-a-half years and she appreciated the trust the community had in the business during months of refunds and travel chaos. 

“Our clients have all been very understanding during this time. It really shows what an amazing relationship we have with our repeat customers and the trust they have in us to do right by them,” she said. 

“We even have people wander past that we have never seen before pop their head in the door to say, ‘it is so good to see you guys open again’. 

“It really makes us appreciate what a fantastic community we are a part of.”

Mrs O’Connor said after the first COVID-19 travel cancellations started to ‘trickle in’ at the end of January 2020, she received ‘never-imagined’ urgent government advice to evacuate people from every country in the world. 

She said after the government notification, she knew something serious was about to happen. 

“It was hectic trying to contact each and every passenger we had overseas and get them on a flight home before what we anticipated were the borders being shut,” she said.

“I’ve been in travel for almost 20 years. We have had the odd government advice to evacuate clients from a particular country before, but never the call to get everyone home, from every country.

“It was a crazy, stressful and hectic time. We managed to get everyone home safely, thankfully.”

Mrs O’Connor said after March 2020 and the global situation became apparent, the business started cancelling bookings one month at a time before she realised borders would remain shut for longer than anticipated. 

“We then made the hard decision to close our office for 13 months,” she said.

“All our staff had to find other jobs, which was devastating because we are a family here and the thought of not working together was crushing. While the office was closed we were still coming in during spare time to process refunds and cancel further bookings as border closures continued. 

“Even though we weren’t open, our priority was to make sure our clients were looked after and money not lost.

“We have managed to refund more than $1.5-million, which is still ongoing. 

“This doesn’t include credits still held with overseas operators. 

“We have had to think outside the box to convert credits into refunds for our clients and it was a good feeling to know we were able to get so much money back for people.”

Mrs O’Connor said travel had picked up again and Helloworld had welcomed back another staff member, Kelly Miller, to work alongside Chris Buwalda and Kate Janetzki.

“We reopened in April 2021, but the reintroduction of lockdowns meant almost every booking was getting cancelled,” she said.

“But now we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and as things pick up we will be excited to welcome back Kim Adams and Briodi McKenzie.”

Mrs O’Connor said people were keen to travel again and travel agencies were on hand to help them through post-COVID travel requirements.

“It is very exciting to be back. People are eager to fly again, although some might still be a little nervous navigating quarantine and testing laws in each country,” she said.

“We can help with that, as well as have access to their flights and booking information to arrange things if they change quickly.”

The entire May 11, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!