TRAVEL agents in the Swindon area have struggled through the pandemic and do not see an end in sight.

Reports in the national press suggested that people had flocked to book holidays now that the Covid-19 vaccine is being rolled out - but that's not the case here.

Kristina Miles of Custom Travel said the last 11 months have been the worst she's faced in 35 years in the industry despite previously dealing with ash clouds and traffic strikes.

She added: "It's been extremely challenging because things keep changing and goal posts are moving, so trying to keep abreast of it all is exhausting.

"In 2020, we managed to move many holiday bookings, which took hours of work, long waits on phone calls, waiting for answers to many questions and email replies. It was very stressful, and with no income to the business."

As lockdowns and travel restrictions continue, she's still dealing with the same issues in 2021. Such struggles caused big chains like Thomas Cook to go bust and Hays Travel to cut jobs.

But smaller independent businesses like Kristina's and Claire Waldron at Highworth Travel have managed to stay afloat by keeping their overheads as low as possible and relying on government grants while their income disappeared.

Both praised their loyal and supportive customers who they hope to hear from as soon as the situation is safer, and recalled having to move some pre-booked holidays four times due to the ever-changing guidelines.

Claire added: "We're keeping our heads above water and that's all we can do because travel is non-existent at the moment and a lot of people feel it's too early to go anywhere, even when vaccinated.

"It's been hard work since March, refunding and moving old bookings constantly There have been a couple of new ones recently, but no big rush like what's been reported.

"People are being very cautious and wise, and our business owner has been so supportive, we're lucky."

With the future still uncertain, cautious optimism and steely determination will hopefully see the businesses through to the other side of this crisis.

Custom Travel has had a few customers booking trips abroad for winter 2021 and summer 2022 though, as with Highworth Travel, many are staying put for now.

Kristina said: "We all love holidays and many people are telling us they're desperate for one but just not quite ready to commit to anything new - certainly not for spring and early summer for fear of further disappointment and changes.

"I hope by Easter, the positive words will become future bookings. It will help if universally common requirements for each destination was introduced, and the current possible need to quarantine on arrival back to the UK is unsettling for many.

"There are still a lot of factors that need sorting and simplifying, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, though that tunnel keeps getting longer."

Claire added: "Countries overseas need to be vaccinated as well. There's no point going somewhere where you might pick up a different strain of the disease.

"We will book holidays but on the understanding that they may not happen, and we only book packages so that customer refunds can be guaranteed.

"We do this for the love of the job, not the money. We're still here, we're on the phone day in and day out giving advice. We will have to wait and see."