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2021 Happy New Year!

A short snapshot of Caribbee’s 2020: 

January 
02.01- peak booking month started, staff and clients frustrated with our system being a bit slow.
03.01- our systems are acting up.
04.01- Server crashed. We can’t access any data whatsoever. 
08.01- Server still down, office still busy, we found out-we actually don’t have a backup. Shock, disbelief with a hint of panic.
15.01- a working system was up again but still NO data. Thinking back, how on earth did we work like this??? 27.01- data retrieved and given back to us. But with 9 MONTHS of it MISSING. Thankfully, we were too busy coping with work to truly realize what has happened. 

February 

01.02- missing data can’t be restored- we have to do it manually. Let the nightmare begin. 
15.02- Front is still busy with clients, R&M haven’t seen daylight this month, there’s no end to going through emails, re-creating folders, receipts.  
18.02- It’s still a painful task, but we’re halfway there to restore everything that’s lost. M made a vow to finish by the end of the month and to never ever look at a receipt again. 
28.02- FINISHED! Data is fully restored!!  

As we leave the office, exhausted but proud, Rob says: “LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE, IT CAN’T GET ANY WORSE THAN THIS!!!!"
(this really happened!!!!) 

March 
08.03- Turns out, Rob was wrong, things can get worse!
16.03- a lot worse actually.
28.03- 1st Lockdown – office must close for public.

April 
Full Lockdown.
Furloughed 50% of the team.

May - June
Full lockdown continued. 

July  
20.07 - 1st plane took off- BA flew to Kingston.
Virgin moves to Heathrow. 

August 
We had to let staff go, some has been with us over 17 years. 
01.08- Virgin goes to BGI.
13.08 Our first 2 charter flights from Guyana to Barbados. 

September 
Charter flights continue. 
Airline takes over charter and runs a schedule service. 

October  
Re-building of the travel industry starts in earnest. 

November 
Another lockdown! 
More cancellations! 

December 
New virus strain causing more concern in the Caribbean. 
It’s been a long year! 

2020 - What we want you to know  

The COVID-19 situation has evolved, there’s a new mutant strain of the virus, with wider impact on the world, our lives, and our ability to travel. Understandably, the familiar sense of unease is back. 

As I look back at the year, first and foremost, I would like to thank you, our clients, for weathering this crisis with us, your commitment to us makes all the difference. 

There was no manual for how to feel or what to think at a time like this, and clearly very stressful for everyone, my list of worries, just like yours I’m sure, is still long. 

Throughout 2020, there were times when I was fearful, fed up and frustrated. However, one thing that saddened me was feeling how we’ve seemed to have lost “normal life”, or what it used to be: from business as usual to our daily routines, the basic personal freedoms we’ve enjoyed and the comfort we often take for granted-seeing our family, friends, and loved ones. This is particularly true when your life revolves around travel, like mine does. 

Being around for as long as we have, forming so many relationships with so many of you, it was inevitable that COVID-19 would claim the lives of some of our clients. We hoped it wouldn’t claim the lives of so many but sadly, it did. This was by far the saddest part of 2020 and our thoughts are with those families who have lost loved ones. 

One thing we have learned is that there’s not much certainty, things change, often, quickly and without warning.  

I would love to be able to say anything with a great deal of certainty but in reality, with the virus in play, nothing but uncertainty is certain. This is not good for the travel industry as we work on schedules, time-tables and strict rules. 

But as with lockdowns 1 and 2, when our lives were turned upside down, borders closed and everything came to a halt, when travel restrictions have led to difficult personal and family situations for many, I found inspiration in the one constant through it all: your commitment to travel. I do recognize and relate to the immense stress some of you might have experienced this year in trying to do so. Trust me, we have always felt it with you.  

On the other hand, this experience was a reminder of what good work is and what it means to us; besides income or security, it should provide a sense of purpose and belonging. The crisis has forced many changes in how we all work and how we better understand and support each other. Changes that, in many ways, needed to happen and should endure.  

It has also reminded us how much we all rely on the work of others – be it healthcare professionals, emergency services, key workers in supermarkets, pharmacies, retail, our delivery drivers or people like us- your travel agents. 

Over the course of the year, I’ve watched my staff step up in their roles and watched us as a company meeting the moment with extra effort, with going the extra mile and being able to demonstrate endurance under pressure. So today, I’d also like to acknowledge the tremendous job my staff have done. I am very proud of the way Caribbee has risen to this challenge: with flexibility, resilience, courage and care!! 

To put things in a better perspective I always prefer to use numbers, and I’d like to share with you the following: the pandemic has affected around 7000 of our passengers this year. All of them were handled by a team of 4, now 3 agents. 7000 passengers on 4 agents.  

I needed a moment to let that sink in when I first ran the numbers.... 

By mid-March, the majority of the travel industry moved to WFH (working from home) and emails only, furloughing on average 80% of its staff. It was clear how airlines and our trade partners couldn’t cope, we too found ourselves pretty much left on our own, having no one to turn too and feeling abandoned. But, as we did in the past, we just got on with it. We’ve taken on all kinds of extra responsibilities as we recognized how our passengers still desperately needed someone to step in and help. 

As we often celebrate the big wins only, this prompted me to reflect on all the small ones – the “little, everyday things” that happened across our office to fulfil that need. 

So, for the best part, we spent 2020 not selling (travel), but fixing /solve (travel), and we did whatever it took to get the job done. It is part of our values and we knew that as life goes on, this is what people will remember. A few examples of what we did:  

To better assist our passengers, we did not want to WFH but keep the team together, so we kept coming into office, day after day.  

When no one else would, we decided to keep our phone lines open, knowing that, at times, we’d have to spend our days/weeks delivering nothing but bad news.  

From arranging PCR tests, to gathering and sending all necessary travel forms, links, sharing information, we did everything we could to help and make the situation a little easier and a little less stressful. 

When the situation was unbearable for our Guyanese passengers and no real solution in sight, we refused to accept that. Taking matters into our own hands and again -when no one else would, we started chartering flights. As you might know, these are now commercially available, which is something we’re extremely proud of. 

To sum up, we have worked tirelessly, harnessing all our energy and skills to assist our passengers in any given situation. Our commitment to being there for our clients in the midst of significant challenges, facing these together with them, or finding a way to get someone on a plane even where it seemed impossible - these were our “little wins” of 2020.  

Now to you, our passengers: you are resilient. I knew the Caribbean community would be the 1st to bounce back- and so it did.  

When borders started to reopen and planes re-emerged in the skies, you were the 1st ones to travel again. You, like us, remain positive. For all of that, we truly thank you. 

You are all setting an extraordinary example of perseverance which has personally been such an uplifting thing to witness. This is what makes us unbeatable. This is why we must keep going. 

You are the best guarantee that, united, we will eventually emerge from this crisis.  

 

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