Bookings have “understandably slowed down” owing to the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, and travel businesses must now play a waiting game, Aito chairman Derek Moore has warned.
Moore, though, added it was vital governments across the world work with the wider travel industry to ensure travellers are safe, and to avoiding inflicting lasting damage on destinations.
“Following a good level of bookings for 2020 in December and January, bookings have understandably slowed down now that coronavirus is on our screens daily,” said Moore. “No one has any idea how soon Coronavirus will be brought under control, so it’s a waiting game at present.
“Aito members are using their common sense and, much as with the volcanic ash cloud, we are all mucking in to help each other out,” said Moore. “The situation is changing daily and will doubtless continue to do so over the coming weeks until things stabilise.”
Moore said most Aito operators were working to a “rolling three-week plan” to ensure they are able to remain nimble as the virus spreads while not jeopardising clients travel plans further out.
He reiterated all Aito operators were bound by the association’s quality charter requiring them to be fair and transparent with customers, to operate in a sustainable manner for the benefit of their destinations, and to operate within the law.
“Most Aito operators with destinations directly affected are running on a rolling three-week plan, i.e. they are not even looking at cancelling or amending any booked departures more than three weeks ahead, but are handling things in date order, which is the logical way to work,” said Moore.
“For bookings less than three weeks away, if the airlines are flying and the DMCs and hoteliers can operate the holidays, then normal booking conditions will apply and clients who cancel will be subject to usual terms and conditions.”
Moore said the situation underlined the value of booking with a fully bonded tour operator. “All Aito operators will, of course, follow the Foreign Office’s travel advice – if the FCO says ‘don’t travel’, then full refunds will be made.
“This is a key reason for booking with a fully-bonded tour operator – those who’ve booked their own flights and accommodation will be on their own and may well struggle to gain refunds.”
The Aito chairman added it was now a matter for governments to help destinations combat the infection and protect their future.
“The travel industry hopes very much for the co-operation and assistance of those governments involved, since they are the ones controlling lock-down zones and overall management of the situation in their destinations,” said Moore.
Meanwhile, Spanish OTA group eDreams Odigeo said group-wide bookings had dropped off 12% since the coronavirus took hold in Italy. The business has reduced its profit forecast through March to €130 million from a previous range of €130-€140 million.
Chief executive Dana Dunne said: “While the impact of the coronavirus has brought a slowdown to the industry, the underlying fundamentals of online travel are strong. Once the virus is contained, a return to normal trading patterns will resume. I find comfort in the resilience of our business model and our strong financial position.”