The large tour operators have, predictably, received a pasting in the latest Holiday Which? survey.
The consumer group polled 11,000 members and found that bottom of the list when it came to being recommended were JMC, Airtours, Thomas Cook and even First Choice, which gave chief executive Peter Long a 23 per cent pay rise to pound;1.43 million last year as a reward for delivering profits of pound;98.3 million.
Laskarina Holidays came top with 100 per cent of people saying they would recommend the company.
ABTA staunchly defends the big four, saying the results are not representative and points to the fact that a recent MORI poll found the overwhelming majority of people were satisfied with their package holidays.
The association has a point. Holiday Which? may have polled 11,000 people but only 50 of them had been with Airtours and 44 with Laskarina Holidays. Some 50 dissatisfied clients or 44 happy ones is not to be sniffed at, but its hardly conclusive proof of something being right or wrong.
Furthermore, the survey takes no account of the prices of holidays. Comparing a JMC or Airtours holiday with one from, for example, Tapestry or Cox & Kings, which both scored highly, is a bit like comparing a Nissan Micra with a Mercedes.
The problem for the travel industry is that people expect a Mercedes when theyve paid for a Nissan Micra.
Whichever polls you believe, the image of tour operators among the public is rightly on the up after hurricanes in the Caribbean and the tsunami disaster.
Package operators were magnificent during these crises, immediately sending aircraft out to resorts to bring people home and even offering free flights to independent travellers, where room allowed.
Unfortunately, whenever theres a disaster, tour operators have to keep quiet because to crow about what a marvellous job you are doing while other people are dying would come across as insensitive and do more harm than good.
However, operators have received widespread coverage and slowly holidaymakers are beginning to realise the difference between going with a reputable company and booking on your own.
Travel companies are also doing admirable work helping raise money for the relief operation and allowing people to make a pound;1 per booking donation to the aid effort.
Going forward, it is vitally important that operators provide concrete evidence of what the money is being spent on, because the great fear with charity is that it doesnt go to the people for whom it is intended.
Already we are starting to hear stories that people in the worst hit areas, like Banda Aceh, are still waiting for help. There has also been a potentially very damaging tale about the mafia in Phuket demanding protection money from construction firms who are rebuilding devastated areas.
It wont take much more of that to make peoples sympathy turn to cynicism and anger. If the industry can raise money and point to what the cash has gone on, it will make us all feel better about ourselves and going on holiday, which can only benefit everyone involved in tourism.
Friday, January 21, 2005