As we approach a month of lockdown, I thought it timely to provide an update on what we have been doing during this challenging time and where the travel industry finds itself.
Our priority when international borders began to close was to repatriate our clients stranded in different parts of the world. My team worked tirelessly under enormous pressure to do so and succeeded with the sole exception of one man who I will refer to a little later.
In addition to getting people safely home, we have had to unravel hundreds of holidays, itineraries and travel arrangements then seek reimbursement or re-arrange them. This is heartbreaking for those clients affected and is, of course, still sadly ongoing.
Many of you may have been following the discussions with regard to the stance adopted by several ATOL licenced tour operators in relation to holidays that have been affected by the closure of borders and cancellations.
This has predominantly centred around consumer rights under the Package Travel Regulations (PTR) which clearly state that if your holiday is booked with an ATOL registered tour operator, then under the relevant clause "all payments made by or on behalf of the traveller must be refunded without undue delay and in any event not later than 14 days after the contract is terminated."
These regulations were designed to protect consumers should a ‘ban’ be made on travel to a specific country or region and no-one could possibly have foreseen the worldwide travel ban and restrictions that have had to be enforced at this time.
In this unprecedented situation, The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is ‘asking for more time to give that refund’ whilst also encouraging customers to accept fully protected credit refund vouchers or date changes.
Most UK tour operators have taken the ABTA stance, even though it is not strictly in line with the PTR. In order to save our travel industry from total collapse, many are recommending that their clients accept the credit refund voucher or date change.
Whilst I am an advocate of the regulations, there will always be exceptions where a trip may have been booked for a very specific reason. My main aim is, of course, to make sure that my customers are not out of pocket.
However, whilst the immediate future remains uncertain, I agree that it may be sensible for clients to consider “banking” what they have paid for, transferring dates to next year and having something to look forward to. Especially as it may take many months, if not years, to recover money through the courts...