Bonn Following the lifting of many tourism restrictions, travel agencies are reporting an increase in demand. But the economic consequences will be felt for a long time to come.
The relaxation of many travel restrictions within Europe was quickly followed by a setback last weekend. The Portuguese capital Lisbon was closed off again for a week due to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. On balance, this is not dampening the economic upswing that the travel industry has been experiencing since the easing. Bonn travel agencies have also confirmed the upward trend.
A good three dozen travel agencies are spread across the city of Bonn. The fact that some of them cannot be reached by phone is not a particularly good sign. But where the business premises are open, there is little time for talking to the press - the increasing demand is tying up all resources, especially as many employees are still working reduced hours under the Kurzarbeit scheme.
The situation is “somewhat better, but far from good”, according to a travel agency in the south of Bonn. As in the entire travel industry, staff numbers had been reduced to an absolute minimum - naturally to the chagrin of the employees concerned. Detlev Kuchenbuch from the travel agency ‘Fernweh’ in Poppelsdorf reports that demand is rising again. In his opinion, however, there is no reason to worry that certain destinations will soon be fully booked. At any rate, the number of flight connections has recently increased to such an extent that flight schedules have been repeatedly disrupted and customers had to rebook. This means a lot of extra work for Kuchenbuch and his colleagues. “On one trip, there were four flight time changes in three weeks, each of which we had to discuss with our customers,” says Kuchenbuch. In any case, demand is picking up again, especially for Greece and Spain. According to Kuchenbuch, it is now crucial for the industry that the recovery continues through the autumn.
“Everyone wants to go to Greece,” says Nicola Hagedorn-Wilcke, who runs her business ‘Bonn Reiseecke’ (Bonn Travel Corner) from her desk at home in Ückesdorf. Corona has already affected her, but she continues on. Minimising fixed costs as much as possible during the lockdowns helped her and was the reason why did not apply for interim financial aid. “I wouldn't have thought that was the right thing to do. But of course, I didn't have any income either,” says Hagedorn-Wilcke. A fortnight ago, she travelled to Greece to see the situation for herself. She too is not concerned that the holiday offer could become limited. “At most, if the customers have more specific wishes. Then it could be tricky,” she says. Transcontinental travel is currently at the bottom of the pile due to the continuing uncertainty. “I advise my clients to stay in Europe,” says Hagedorn-Wilcke.
New bookings, but also cancellations
“The crisis is far from over for us,” verifies Birgit Heinichenstimmung. The operator of the Bad Godesberg travel agency Viaverde, specialised in exotic medium-haul destinations, is currently travelling in Georgia to get an impression of the current situation and the vibe in one of her main destinations. On the phone she explains: "We are finding that more bookings are coming in, but at the same time we are also receiving cancellations from customers who booked a year ago but are now forgoing their travel plans.” The vaccination regulations and flight connections in particular have caused uncertainty. “A lot of information is constantly changing, and customers have a correspondingly large number of questions, which in turn increases our workload. That's why we are earning next to nothing at the moment,” she says.
Although she has taken on some German holiday offers from friendly travel organisers, she is still dependent on interim financial aid. In addition, she has taken out a nearly six-figure sum as a loan from the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, which can be repaid over ten years. “This liquidity buffer has enabled us to continue operating and we have used the time to update our website and our data protection and marketing.” She will now use the interim financial aid to bring her staff back from reduced work under the Kurzarbeit scheme. Because, says Heinichen: “I just need more resources.”
(Original text: Rüdiger Franz, Translation: Caroline Kusch)