When I hear people talk about the “boom” and “when are we going to see peaks in travel bookings”, I have to take a deep breath and think about what our current priorities in the travel industry are and then what will the “new world” look like at some point in the future.
Dealing with the present is our first priority. We currently have very pressing issues that need very quick answers, especially for the agent community. Furlough is all well and good but as usual the travel industry appears to have been pushed to the bottom of the pile, and the government needs to wake up and realise that we are also frontline people in this terrible crisis.
Every day for the last few weeks, and potentially for the next few months, we have had our administration, accounts and, in my case, my care team, working flat out every day of the week dealing with nothing but client refunds, amendments, transfers and queries from sales people. It is relentless and not only that, some of them are doing this with their children at home which is even more incredible and admirable.
But these people cannot do this indefinitely. There has to be a cut-off point, they have to get some respite. A great number of travel agents and operators, whilst grateful for furlough, need a directive from government that allows exemption in its current form to allow extra resources to be used within our businesses to service the sheer volume of calls and administrative processes.
Secondly, what will be extremely helpful is an agreement from all tour operators and Abta to bring in a standardised policy on the collection of customer balances. The one thing that will help to ease the pressure on travel agents and also send a very positive message to the consumer is for balance of payments to be deferred to a period such as 28 days on a rolling basis day by day until we reach a point where there is clarity on the resumption of leisure travel.
The current situation of agents having to contact clients and ask for money is not ethical, and we need a work-around this as soon as possible.
The next point is on the subject of refund vouchers and credit notes. Travel agents are now facing a barrage of complaints from customers requesting refunds. We all know what the Package Travel Directive says in relation to refunds, but travel agents are facing increased hostility because they are seen to be offering refund vouchers and credit notes as directed by selected tour operators.
Travel agents are caught between a rock and a hard place, and we need help and clarity on this particular issue from the government. Back to the point in question, “when is the boom going to happen?”
Before we even think about a boom in bookings or when we are likely to start up operations again, we need to take stock as an industry and through both Abta and Clia, put together a policy that explains what the new world is going to look like. Just what will be required to ensure the safety of our clients whilst flying and on both land based holidays and cruise ships.
I’m guessing that at the moment, people are just trusting that everything will be OK, which I am sure it will be. But just what are those processes? What documentation will we need to produce and what will be the checkpoints before flying or embarkation etc.
These are key factors in giving the consumer the confidence to book their next holiday, and we look to Abta and Clia for guidance.
Our industry is resilient and innovative. It is also vital to the world economy but most importantly it has within it the most amazing people who right now are not receiving the help and guidance in some areas that are needed.
Just for once it would be a real shot in the arm if the government (and the travel pundits on TV) actually, just for once, recognised the pressures we are under and the help that we need to get through this crisis.