Other than being a proud parent, I live and breathe travel – it is my passion, along with meeting new people, and even then, the talk always turns to travel, either booking it or experiencing it. I am extremely fortunate to say that my passion is my career. A career which makes me feel lucky – to get up every day to train, support and encourage fellow travel colleagues is my dream come true, and one that I’ve been living for 20 years in this amazing industry. Things have changed, ash clouds and terrorist attacks have affected us over the years, but nothing quite like when Covid-19 hit this year.
Nothing overly alarmed me back in early 2020, as the Focus central team were, as always, a hive of activity – Barry and myself were just as busy as ever on the support desk and we also took on covering the Covid updates for our TMC Partners – in fact, there were not enough hours in the day to get it all done!
So, when the headlines started to say, ‘schools closing’ and ‘lockdown imminent’, I was in total denial. ‘It’s just a cold’ I kept saying, ‘don’t panic’. My mum had just travelled out to America, and all I was thinking was ‘the borders aren’t closing so it can’t be THAT bad?’
How wrong I was.
The first week that the schools were closed, I could only describe as a nightmare! I was home alone with my 10-year old son, Gavin – an only child, in a 2 bedroom flat with no garden. Previously, when he was on school holidays, we would enjoy fun things like the cinema, road trips, bowling, trips to London or holidays to the sun – all of that was suddenly gone. So, spending all day with each other I knew was going to have its challenges. I was still working so that kept me going despite being overwhelmed with additional home-schooling responsibilities but getting up for work gave me a purpose.
Then the furlough scheme was announced … a word most people had to google – a government scheme saving millions of jobs. However, with Focus being the busiest I had ever seen it, I did not think it would affect me … but it did! Initially I was devastated, to feel like I could not be of use to my company and that the management team could cope without me – I felt useless and lost. I was home alone with Gavin, suddenly thrown into a world of full-time home schooling, no work, and no idea for how long.
My mum had come home early from the States, but I couldn’t go and see her, or any of my family, or my friends. The feeling of being trapped and desperate became a good friend to me in those weeks. Everything that I looked forward to escaping to, was gone overnight.
A new routine was formed, home schooling, training and day-time drinking, multiple Zoom calls with friends, quizzing, check in calls and Netflix-ing. Things slid fast, home schooling was being done mid-afternoon and doing training in the middle of the night. But after all the calls, quizzes, and zooms, I was still alone. Gavin was having a great time, up late chatting with his friends, sleeping in, and wearing down my patience to zero. After about 6 or 7 weeks in, it all become too much.
So I got up and spoke to my travel family – they told me their stories and I realised I wasn’t alone in feeling like this, and we now know the travel industry is going to be one of the hardest hit.
Despite being empathic, I was comforted by my little surprises through the post from my colleagues, the multiple weekly social calls, learning new things about my team that you probably would not know before this and the constant check in calls.
I challenged myself. I completed a Microsoft course and had time to complete PRINCE2 project management. I took my time and I took it all in.
I tidied up my work environment so I would be fresh faced and ready to return as soon as I needed to be. I went through endless lists of things I previously had not got round to doing, I made a plan and I’m going to continue doing more courses. I found keeping in the work routine vital to keep as clear and level-headed as possible. No-one knows what is going to happen but as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’.
I recently got that call I had been waiting for – Focus needed me to work for two weeks. The thrill of being back at work again for me is amazing, getting into that routine and having a purpose felt like a breath of fresh air but it did take a few days to readjust to normal working hours again. The pace was different, the team had evolved and were the busiest I had ever seen, taking on additional duties left right and centre. I knew my coming off furlough was temporary, so I just wanted to ease the burden as much as I could.
The travel industry has changed, my job has changed, everything you once thought you knew has changed. But one thing that has not changed is the dedication, passion and care that Focus give to their Partners, every single day.
I am so grateful to Abby and the rest of the team for everything they have done and are still doing whilst I am in and out of furlough. They are a team of superheroes, picking up all of our projects whilst being there for all of our TMC Partners at the same time. I am so proud to say that I work for the Focus Travel Partnership, especially during these wild and crazy times. Having the knowledge that our TMC Partners have this amazing team behind them makes me hopeful for the future and positive that the travel industry will prevail and that I will be seeing you all in person very soon.
These people are at the heart of everything we do here at Focus. Everyone has a vital role to play including myself and it is a role I cherish and feel so lucky to have.
I would say to any Business Travel agency, if you are not part of our Focus family then why not? You don’t have to be alone trying to navigate the ever-changing global situation, you can be part of a community and share your troubles, triumphs, highs and lows. I take a lot of comfort knowing that Focus TMC’s have the most amazing team on their side through the good and ugly times.