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Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Agents refuse to book holidays for July and August


Independent travel agents are turning away bookings for this summer due to the ongoing uncertainty around travel restrictions.

They fear they'll be forced to issue thousands more refunds - essentially working for free - if the holidays are subsequently cancelled.

Many also fear that even if the holidays go ahead, customers will be disappointed to find they're not what they were expecting.

Deben Travel MD Lee Hunt said: "There are far too many uncertainties at the moment. You wouldn't catch me going on holiday at the moment and I'm desperate to go away.

"Customers are asking us questions that we quite simply don't have the answers to or, indeed, give guarantees or assurances.

"If someone wants to book, and they are asking me questions that I can't give a knowledgeable and truthful answer to, then that doesn't sit right with us a business. It's going to lead to complaints, bad publicity and yet more refund requirements."

Reputation vs money

"No-one more than me wants to book last-minute holidays and make money. We desperately need the money and I want to see bookings coming in. But at the same time we can't book people's holidays and not know what is going on.

"We are in a small town. Everyone talks. I think that people would look on us more favourably if we do the right thing.

"Questions people are asking include: 'Will all the facilities be open?' 'Will the spa be open?' 'Can I go on excursions?' 'Who pays if something goes wrong?' 'What if our local area goes on lockdown - will my holiday be cancelled and will I get my money back?

"We need to have our own little traffic light system and at the moment it's firmly on red."

Lee said he won't even make a booking if the client understands all the issues and is prepared to take the risk.

"We are not comfortable about taking people's money and not knowing what they are getting. If they want to go online and risk it they are more than welcome to book elsewhere.

"We started at the beginning of the Covid crisis with getting travellers back home - that was a nightmare. Then we've had three months of refunds that we are struggling to get money for.

"We don't need any more aggravation. Once we explain to customers, they are fine."

Greig Ewins of West Lothian said it was a sensible decision. "Who in their right mind trusts this government to get this right when they announce [air bridges] on Wednesday.

"I would worry I sell a holiday that the customers can't travel due to restrictions to there not being lifted.

"I have a couple of enquiries for late deals but I've told them hang on until Wednesday when they make the announcement."

Westoe Travel director Graeme Brett said: "We have eight bookings 'on hold' waiting for the travel corridors advice and the FCO non-essential travel ban to be lifted."

Travel giants such as TUI have reported a surge in interest in overseas holidays since Friday evening when the government revealed it would announce quarantine-free travel to certain countries later this week.

The list of quarantine-exempt destinations is expected to include holiday favourites Spain, Greece, Italy and France, along with possibly Turkey and Croatia and a few other destinations with a low number of Covid-19 cases.

But Karl Douglas of independent travel agent Inspiring Journeys in Beverley said: "We are not accepting July/August bookings unless there are extenuating circumstances, e.g if they have a property or family abroad.

"It's case-by-case, but we are taking details for when the advice and quarantine changes. With the guarantees we have to give, I need to be able to look our customers in the eye at booking and afterwards."

Gillian Luxon of D&G Travel in Marlow said there are 'too many mixed messages out there on travel and in the news'. She said the local lockdown in Leicester, with possibly more lockdowns to follow, made booking anything far too risky.

Fear of abuse

Many agents are afraid that accepting new bookings now could lead to a backlash from customers. One said that she couldn't face taking any more abuse from clients if their holidays were cancelled and they couldn't get refunds quick enough.

She warned agents could also find themselves dealing with complaints from clients after their holidays if they weren't what they'd expected. "I don't think they realise they are exchanging one lockdown for another," she said.

However, one agent said it was hard to turn new business down. "As a small business we are desperate for bookings and will probably take them on and hope for the best."


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