Travel has an uphill battle to restore consumer confidence this winter with refund issues, quarantine and Covid testing all hurdles to overcome, according to an ITT panel.
Speaking at an ITT conference session, Restoring Confidence and Rethinking Travel – the Next Steps, David Speakman, chair, Genius Capital and Travel Counsellors founder, said Refund Credit Notes had caused big issues with consumers.
“As soon as you issued RCNs, the pressure went off the airline and onto the agent; the industry made a terrible strategic mistake.”
Speakman added: “The industry made the wrong decisions about RCNs, now people are reluctant to book. The industry has to apologise and guarantee they will never issue RCNs again and make sure airlines pass on pipeline monies.”
Steve Endacott, chair, Rock Insurance Services singled out some airlines for not refunding pipeline monies “hoping agents will go bust”. “It’s a deliberate policy, the biggest apology should come from the airlines,” he said.
Lisa McAuley, Gold Medal managing director, B2B tour operations, said the industry had damaged its image over RCNs. “Consumer sentiment toward us at large is not great. Certain segments of the industry have not covered themselves in glory.”
However, she added: “We shoulder a lot of blame for something that has not been our fault.”
On the pandemic issue, Tim Hames, FTI Consulting senior advisor, said there had only been three coronaviruses that had caused human deaths, but these were all in the last 20 years.
“We have to assume this is not a freak one in 500 years event,” he said.
Hames said there should be an emphasis on “health security” in future.
“We have to think quite deeply about insurance; it’s almost a bore having to do it as an additional expense. People are going to have to be much more careful after bruising experiences this year.”
Endacott said: “The fear of quarantine is one thing destroying our business. If we want to get people booking more than a week ahead we have to take away that fear.”
He said a £15pp test was feasible at airports. “The government won’t pay it. We need to follow the cruise industry and act ourselves and if necessary challenge the government legally to say ‘why are you enforcing 14-day quarantine?’”
He predicted “a tough winter”. “Confidence will come back, but not in time for January,” he said, adding: “Capacity will be decided by whichever airline holds their nerve.”
The travel experience was another issue. Speakman said he took many cruises but would not take one while he had to wear a mask.
“That’s not a cruise for me.” He said airports already “abused” passengers and were no longer where the holiday started. “And now we’re going to bring in testing.”
Speakman added he was sceptical of vaccines being developed: “I’m not taking a vaccine only for my leg to fall off six months later.”