Travel bodies rally to support businesses struggling to cope with coronavirus crisis
Published on Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Travel agents are increasingly concerned about the impact of coronavirus on their businesses as the crisis continues to escalate.
Several agents posted on the Facebook group Travel Gossip to say that new business has dried up and an increasing number of customers are cancelling existing bookings, even to destinations which have fewer coronavirus cases than the UK.
One member called on ABTA to put out some positive PR to counter stories in the national media about the virus.”This is when ABTA should be spending our fees on positive PR and playing down the media hype. Come on ABTA – Where are you???,” she wrote.
However, ABTA said that in the past 24 hours alone it has carried out more than 50 media interviews, including with print publications, radio and TV stations and online.
A spokeswoman said it was attempting to reassure consumers that it was still safe to travel and it was pushing the benefits of booking a package through a travel professional.
ABTA has also included the latest travel advice on its website, which also has Q&A’s for travellers available at abta.com/coronavirus, which address such issues as when they are entitled to a refund and explains their rights if they choose to cancel due to a disinclination to travel.
In an attempt to reassure holidaymakers, it adds: “Customers with an existing package holiday booked, and those considering making plans, can have confidence that there are protections in place for package holidays should the travel advice to their destination change.”
ABTA’s spokeswoman said the Association was continuing its ‘Travel with Confidence’ campaign and she said it is possible it will launch a separate campaign to try to encourage people to travel despite the coronavirus concerns.
Some agents say business is very quiet and a few said they have had several cancellations, including to countries with only one or two cases of coronavirus, such as mainland Spain and Switzerland. One had a cancellation for a ski trip in late March to Zermatt, a resort which has no known cases of coronavirus, with the customer requesting a 100% refund.
AITO said: “Following ‘a good level of bookings’ for 2020 in December and January, bookings have understandably slowed down now that coronavirus is on our screens daily.”
It said the just as with the volcanic ash cloud situation 10 years ago, members are ‘mucking in’ to help each other out.
Most AITO operators with destinations directly affected are amending bookings up to three weeks ahead and handling bookings in date order.
“For bookings less than three weeks away, if the airlines are flying and the DMCs and hoteliers can operate the holidays, then normal booking conditions will apply and clients who cancel will be subject to usual terms and conditions,” it said.
AITO added that the travel industry hopes for co-operation and assistance from governments involved in locked down areas.
The Travel Network Group said it has put together ‘a robust programme of support’ for members, which includes regular updates and a dedicated coronavirus helpline that will be manned seven days a week.
“We have proactively reached out to all our business partners requesting that they keep us fully informed of any changes they are making to their programmes and terms and conditions,” said CEO Gary Lewis.
TTNG will also host a webinair with its legal advisors this week for members to join and ask questions.
“We will continue to monitor the situation very closely and make sure we are providing our members with full support,” added Lewis.