ABTA’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, has given evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee as it looks at the implications for transport of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked how the Government can support travel agents and tour operators, Mark Tanzer, highlighted a number of areas, including:
- Providing guidance and clarity on refunds for package holidays, including confirming publicly what the CAA has stated privately, that Refund Credit Notes covering ATOL package holidays with flights are financially protected. This would be a significant step in supporting consumer confidence.
- Reviewing future furloughing rules, enabling travel businesses to have a degree of flexibility and allowing either a part-time return to work or some tasks to be undertaken without the loss of all salary support.
- Doing all it can, working with the ABI and insurers, to ensure adequate travel insurance cover is available to customers when FCO travel restrictions start to be lifted.
Tanzer said: “ABTA welcomes the Committee’s work to understand the situation facing different types of travel business and their customers. Travel agents and tour operators are facing different challenges to airlines, and we urgently need Government intervention and guidance in a number of areas, including refunds, furloughing and travel insurance.”
On the refunds situation, Tanzer said: “The coronavirus crisis has meant that hundreds of thousands of package holidays have been simultaneously cancelled. While many customers are rebooking their holidays for a future date, some would prefer a refund, which is their right under package travel regulations.
“However, the regulations were never designed for a crisis of this nature and scale and many businesses are unable to deliver immediate refunds. Tour operators have not received money back from suppliers such as airlines and hotels and are unable to meet a 14 day window for refunding a package holiday, and have therefore been asking customers for more time.
“ABTA has been urging the UK Government to provide guidance on refunds since the coronavirus crisis started, but the Government has yet to act or provide any public comment. Meanwhile, the situation continues to deteriorate for travel agents and for tour operators, as well as their customers, many of whom are understandably frustrated and anxious about the current situation and the status of their refunds.
“In a bid to bring some order to an exceptionally difficult situation while ensuring that customers keep their right to a refund and financial protection following cancellation of a package holiday, ABTA has developed guidance for Members who may need more time to process refunds. This aligns with the Competition and Markets Authority’s position on preserving the customer right to a due refund, while recognising the fact that refunds may not be able to be paid within the statutory period.
“It’s in everyone’s interests for the Government to come out publicly and offer support and guidance on this issue. While the payment rules of the ATOL fund are clear, and consistent with the protection of deferred refunds, a lack of public comment has understandably led to some customers feeling anxious or confusing them with holiday vouchers, which do not offer the same protection.
“If the Government is unable or unwilling to act or provide guidance on the 14 day window for refunds, then it will need to explore other options or face the inevitable failure of these businesses. An industry-wide collapse of travel agents and tour operators would be the worst possible outcome for these businesses and their staff, for their customers who would have to wait many months for refunds and for the UK taxpayer who would end up footing the bill for the ATOL scheme.”