‘We’re all vulnerable at times’, says Gold TC Andy La Gette

“Hands up who likes 2020?” Queue silence. This year has thrown the kitchen sink at our industry, and it is not yet finished. So, how do we survive with our businesses - and our mental health - intact? In the week that follows World Mental Health Day, I was pleased to be asked by TTG to write about my experiences, in the hope that it may help someone else.

As a business owner, the equation is simple. “No bookings” equals “no income”. That was the alarming predicament facing me this Easter.

Cancellations and rearrangements became the order of the day, working harder than ever to effectively unpick the very arrangements that were supposed to yield my income for 2020. We’ve had major travel crises before, but what made this different, was the long-term and enduring nature of Covid-19.

More than ever before, mental strategies have become vital to ensure long-term survival.

As a franchisee, I’ve benefitted from phenomenal support from Travel Counsellors, who recognised very early on in the pandemic the importance of safeguarding the mental health of everyone within the organisation.

Communication is king. I’ve always believed this, but it’s never been more important than over the last few months. It is easy to play the victim and wait for help, but here, as entrepreneurs, we’ve been reminded (as the well-known saying goes) to accept the things we cannot change, but have the courage to change the things we can.

While Covid-19 dominates world news, we remain in charge of our own destinies, provided we control the controllables.

Fundamental to the support we’ve received has been a consistent and structured flow of phone, video and email messages offering in equal measure, support and guidance in terms of how we can help ourselves. Layered onto this we’ve been given some motivational material by our CEO Steve Byrne, who has recorded a series of outstanding one-on-one video conversations with other prominent business personalities. Finally, we’ve been given access to a whole range of self-help training modules to enable us to expand our personal capabilities into new areas.

Mindset is crucial. Inspirational and focussed leadership from our directors has encouraged me to use 2020 to take stock of my own business.

Alongside managing the aborted 2020 trips, I’ve used my spare time to reconnect with customers I’ve not heard from for a while - reaching out, finding out how they’re doing, reassuring them that I’m coping well and raring to go when this all passes. There is no value in being despondent, instead I’ve gone for “resilient and professional”.

Key to my resilience has been learning the importance of down-time and recharging my batteries. Spirits can be buoyed with light-hearted and themed Zoom sessions or WhatsApp groups – sharing non-travel fellowship with valued friends. Getting out of the house and running regularly has also given me a sense of purpose away from my desk, while home-schooling and recreational time with the family has been an unexpected bonus not afforded in my previously chaotic existence.

As we mark World Mental Heath Day, I do recognise that nobody is invincible and that we’re all vulnerable at times. I have my down days where I wonder “why me?”. But I always try to pick myself up quickly.

Talking regularly to colleagues helps, reminding us that we’re going through this together. I also lend a hand on our internal phone lines, assisting with practical advice, or just a virtual hug. The impact of lifting the spirits of a colleague who is feeling low is incredibly rewarding, and something the Travel Counsellors peer-to-peer support network has enabled across our community.

Nobody is left alone – we’ll get through it together. This will pass, and not lasting the distance is not an option. I simply refuse to let Covid impact my business.

I’ve accepted losing bookings but I’m determined not to lose a single customer. I’ve planned forward and booked several trips for 2021, with others in the quoting stage. I feel rested, energised and eager for the bounce-back to begin as soon as it can.

Either way, I’m in a good place, and I’m ready for the restart.