We appreciate that the situation with Covid-19 is having a huge impact on everyone’s business at the moment, and I empathise wholeheartedly with every single one of you facing so much uncertainty.
As one of the co-founders of Latin Routes and Polar Routes, I have recently seen a lot of negativity online surrounding the way tour operators are responding to cancellations and bookings, which saddens me immensely.
So I would like to take the opportunity at this unprecedented time to explain the impact of the current situation from a tour operator side, so you have an understanding of how this will affect us if your clients opt for refunds over rebooking.
Firstly, 9 out of 10 of our direct clients have rebooked their trips within the next 12 months and chosen not to cancel, so we are confident that most clients are reasonable and, if the situation is explained properly, will opt to rebook.
People will always want to travel and if they cancel there is no guarantee they will book through you or us again, so it is important that we encourage rebooking for all trips.
We are working all hours to repatriate our clients in Latin America, as many countries have now restricted flights to and from the continent.
This is our duty as a tour operator, but it isn’t free or cheap to do. Unless they are rebooked onto the same airline, we incur the costs of these one-way, high-class tickets.
Often the airline they have booked on is full and therefore requires new tickets to be purchased on different airlines or different cabin classes.
We often only have two to three days between the government announcement and the borders closing so it means availability is very poor and last minute.
We can claim a partial refund or credit against the leg that hasn’t been used but this is often less than £100, when new tickets are anything between £900 and £2,500 per person.
If we cannot get them home, we have to front the costs of hotels and expenses.
Most hotels are being flexible and offering rebook or refund, as are our transfer and tour suppliers but elements such as National Park fees, taxes and permits are all non-refundable.
When a client cancels due to coronavirus and the FCO advises against travel, it costs us a huge amount of money.
Here is why – most trips have a number of flights involved, and 30% to 40% of the cost of our trips is made up of both international and domestic flights.
The current policies for airlines mean clients can rebook free of charge or claim a voucher for future travel with no name changes.
I must be clear that the airlines are not offering refunds. So, if your client claims a full refund, we have to pay out.
So it isn’t just about the commission and time that went into booking these holidays that we lose, it is much more than that.
We stand to make a physical loss on each cancelled booking of a substantial amount. This is the situation for many tour operators out there, big and small.
It is important to mention that we want you to earn commission – but as you can see, it is impossible for us on a refund.
You have also put so much time and effort into these bookings and by offering rebooks we are able to honour your commission because although deferred, the client will still travel.
We want to support your businesses too and by rebooking we can all support each other and get this industry going again.
This also impacts local communities and suppliers in each Latin America country where we operate.
Latin Routes was started because Martin (Johnson) and I love the culture, the people and the beauty of the continent.
We have a true passion for it, and by rebooking we are able to continue to support tourism, which is one of the region’s main industries and will impact so many as it does here.
Many of the communities and people in countries we operate in rely on income from tourism and the current situation has devastated many communities.
The most effective way to do this is next year – send everyone who was due to travel this year alongside all those who will be itching to travel once this nightmare is over!
Please encourage your clients to rebook their trips to Latin America and elsewhere around the world.
Please take the time to explain the impact this has on you as a travel agent and us as a tour operator, and explain the airline policies and losses we stand to make as businesses.
Most people are reasonable. If they still wish to cancel, ask them if they will contact their insurance company to claim on lost services and flights.
Please do everything in your power to protect our amazing industry and the people in it, both near and far.
Jess Dennison is head of trade relations at Latin Routes.