Limited operator opening hours and consumer confusion over track and trace policies are hampering agents’ sales. Gary Noakes reports.
Operators not opening on Saturdays and customer confusion over track and trace requirements emerged as two big concerns during a TTG Agent Matters discussion on Tuesday (21 July).
Thorne Travel director Shona Thorne, Malvern World Travel director Lee Harrison and Midcounties Co-operative Travel PTA Helen Furlong voiced their frustration at trying to make bookings on Saturdays.
“Operators are missing big opportunities from not opening at weekends,” said Harrison, revealing he had directed some sales towards operators purely because they happened to be open. “If you’ve got a £25,000 booking coming through, you’re not going to wait for an operator to open on the Monday,” he said.
Furlong added: “It’s time for operators to ease the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday working. We need a little bit more effort from them to get things kick-started.”
Thorne said cost was the obvious consideration but added: “It’s chicken and egg; if you don’t put the hours in for us to book, you won’t get the sales, so you won’t get the money.
“It’s time to make the decision to step up. I think if they don’t do it now, they’ll lose out and it’ll be online companies that we end up having to book through.”
Locator form confusion
The panel also expressed concern about Public Health passenger locator forms.
Furlong said official advice was now so complex that agents had to help.“There’s a lot now to think about when you actually make a booking,” she said. She added a colleague had arrived back in England and faced completing the form at arrivals.
“I don’t believe there’s a hard copy; you either have to do it on your phone or someone sits with you with an iPad to help you with it. It certainly caused delays in going through customs.”
Thorne said the situation was similar in Scotland. “We had one customer who lives in Tenerife who came back through Prestwick airport and didn’t know about the form. He was just waved through.
We made it known to the Scottish government and instantly there were emails everywhere.
“My concern is, whose responsibility is this? We will help customers where possible, but it is their responsibility.
There’s not been much clarity on that at all.
“Some of the big operators have sent emails to agents, but I don’t see anything at all from the small operators.”
She said it could be “a bit of a nightmare for older clients in-resort”. Harrison agreed:
“Not everyone is tech-savvy, not everyone is going to have a printer handy 48 hours beforehand and they might not be users of an electronic device.
Confusion was affecting bookings well into next year, the panel said.
“What was relevant three weeks ago is not relevant today,” said Thorne. She said the government had told the trade what it had to do, but not the public.
“The government needs to say, ‘when you’re coming from abroad, this is what you need to do’. There needs to be a stronger message to give it clarity.”
Other nations’ requirements were also causing problems. Harrison said: “If you look at Madeira, where 72 hours before you have to provide evidence of a negative test, a client phoned and said ‘we’re flying over a bank holiday, does the 72 hours include that?’”
Furlong added: “We’ve had that problem with new year ski bookings because Austria currently asks for a negative test within 48 hours of travel. If you travel on 26 or 27 December, that’s nigh on impossible. There’s no answer to it at the moment, so we are losing bookings.”
Despite the challenges, the panellists agreed bookings were on the up and were seeing steady growth.