Travel industry lobbying has fallen short again during the coronavirus crisis, according to key operator bosses.
Speaking during the latest TTG Keep Your Business Alive II seminar, operators agreed the industry had failed to lead opinion on the question of refunds.
Derek Jones, Der Touristik UK chief executive, dismissed suggestions travel had been singled out unfairly over the issue and said the overall response from the industry could have been better coordinated.
“We allowed this to become a consumer-led story, whereas actually I think it should have been an industry-led initiative.
“The narrative needs to be about how the travel industry is there to support customers through these difficult times, rather than the narrative that has emerged about how the suppliers are hiding behind furlough.”
He said there had been a lack of proactive government support. “Had the government acted more decisively and sooner, we would not have been backed into a corner. If people understood they could refund knowing that the government would underwrite that, then I don’t think we would have arrived at these issues.”
Lisa McAuley, managing director, Gold Medal and Travel 2, said the industry might learn lessons from the crisis: “It’s the consumer that’s in control of the narrative and not the industry and that’s not the ideal scenario.”
Alan Cross, head of trade sales, Jet2holidays, said the operator had produced refund credit notes giving the customer the option to rebook or receive cash refunds after 31 July.
“It allows the agent to retain the customer, retain the commission and retain their business,” he said.
“Of those customers in the past three weeks who have asked to rebook or have a refund, 80% have asked for a refund. But the vast majority are holding off because they know they’ve got until 31 July to make a decision.”
All three operators were seeing a rise in bookings, with Kuoni recording 20% of sales from new customers.
“Summer 2021 is selling very, very well,” said Cross, who added 21% of new bookings were from new customers.
He said re-bookers were increasing durations and upping their hotel quality and upgrading rooms.
“The good news is not only a demand to rebook – there’s demand to buy a little bit more.”