Don’t call your travel operator unless it’s urgent and re-book rather than cancel…
As coronavirus forces countries across the globe to urge its citizens to stay home and the UK Foreign Office (FCO) advises Britons against “all but essential travel” for at least the next 30 days, one thing is clear: things are looking pretty bleak for the travel industry.
The holiday plans of Britons have been put on hold for at least the next month; but many are worried about booking anything pre-September as scientists speculate the virus could be with us for months to come.
In the short-term, airlines, travel agents and hotels are dealing with potentially refunding thousands of customers, with the prospect of any incoming revenue looking slim.
With Flybe’s recent collapse – and the demise of Thomas Cook last year – fresh in our minds, worries over the future of many travel companies are high.
Abta, the UK travel association, and Aito, the Association of Independent Tour Operators, have warned that business will collapse under the weight of refunds – leaving a void on the travel landscape, while the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that up to 50 million travel and tourism jobs are at risk around the world due to the current pandemic.
A 180 degree turn
According to The World Economic Forum, the travel and tourism industry brings in £7.5 trillion per year globally, making it one of the largest economic sectors in the world.
In 2019, the Top Competitive Countries in Travel and Tourism list included Italy, Spain, France, Japan, the US, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Pre-coronavirus, the greatest travel-related worry for these countries was overtourism – the buzzword of recent years, with the likes of Venice and Amsterdam under particular strain.
Locals frequently butted heads with local government over this, with increased real-estate prices, damage to natural landscapes, and generally crowds of (frequently badly behaved) people being pointed to.
But these visitors also helped boost economies and drive businesses. Now they’re suddenly gone, it spells big trouble for the industry.
How to help
“There are a few key things you can do” says our Consumer Expert, Nick Trend.
“First, realise that businesses are under extreme pressure, so don’t call or contact unless it is genuinely urgent, at least for the next few days.”
Approaching the situation with an understanding mindset is important.
While it can be tempting to lose your cool over potentially lost trips, or get frustrated with customer service centres crumbling under the volume of calls and messages, try to remember that this is an incredibly stressful time for companies too.
Don’t refund, rebook
“Postpone a trip rather than cancel it,” says Trend. Travel companies going under hurts the consumer in the long run; as well as potentially pushing up travel prices and lowering holiday options, a widespread travel downturn could spell disaster for the wider economy.
Travel package regulations that protect consumers when their holiday is disrupted or cancelled, requiring tour operators to provide cash refunds, were “not designed for this kind of instance,” said Justin Wateridge, managing director of Steppes Travel, a Cirencester-based tour operator that tailors holidays around the world.
“If tour operators have to refund all this money, cash flow will grind to a halt pretty damn quickly,” he said. “We need a relaxation so that client money stays with tour operators and customers postpone their trips to a later date. If not, we will collapse. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will not be able to cope and clients will not be able to get their money back anyway.”
In particular, many airlines are offering extremely flexible free flight changes, and this can be a more secure way of ensuring you get your money’s worth without applying for travel vouchers or demanding a cash refund.
“Don’t hold back from booking trips” advises Trend. “Though obviously, for the time being, only for departures from autumn onwards.”
There are still a host of incredible holidays that can be booked now, potentially with a great saving. For the best options see The 25 amazing holidays you should still book now.
Other ways you can help:
- Be mindful of the sectors within the tourism industry that rely on patronage for success: travel agents, tour operators, food and drink, entertainment, and accommodation are all at risk due to the travel bans.
- Many local restaurants are delivering (using staff members as couriers) as are bars – The Natural Philosopher in London and The Whiskey Club in Birmingham are offering pre-mixed cocktail delivery to the local area.
- Purchase gift vouchers or gift cards for future trips, both abroad and domestic.
- Don’t lose your desire to learn about other countries and cultures. The wider world can still be experienced through virtual tours, webcams, and live streams. Read books and articles on travel destinations that you’d like to visit in the future, or indulge in a little escapism with these travel-heavy boxsets.