Every day brings a new challenge and a new set of rules, says Spear Travel’s Kim Kent

Life as we know it has changed. Dramatically. And not only in the places we work, but also the way in which we work.

April came and went very quickly for most travel agencies as we were all trying to help our customers with their bookings, with some wanting to cancel and others requesting to move their holidays to next year. I think we can all say that, in terms of dealing with those wanting refunds, this has been the most challenging and difficult time.

While we, as travel agents, can sympathise with the tour operators, that doesn’t detract from the stress of being on the frontline. Then we have the refund credit notes and having to explain detailed terms and conditions to customers, not to mention keeping up with policies that were changing daily. In a word, it has been a nightmare.

Now we’re into May, are things calmer? Not in my house. I am still as busy as ever taking calls and answering emails.

Different opinions

Customers give us an interesting insight into how divided people are in what they think about this virus and how long its impact might last.

Some want to travel and have paid their balances for August, even though the health secretary has told us that summer is all but cancelled – it’s like nothing is going to stop them from going on holiday. Others are really scared, and don’t even want to think about getting on a plane. They ask a million questions, as if we know all the answers.

“I have a customer who booked a cruise direct and has told me they definitely won’t do that again, so perhaps good agents will benefit in some cases?”

Most are being very reasonable and sympathetic, but others don’t understand why they can’t just have their money back. They blame us, because that‘s who they paid.

What about new business? We have done about 10 new bookings for next year with a really mixed bag of destinations, from long‑haul and cruise to escorted tours and European holidays. No one destination is standing out above another in terms of popularity.

I don’t think people are prepared to give up their holiday; come what may, they want something to look forward to. I have had only one customer mention possibly not being able to afford a holiday (his 23 pubs have had to close). But he has still given me the rebooking for 2021. I have another customer who booked a cruise direct and has told me they definitely won’t do that again, so perhaps good agents will benefit in some cases?

Questions, questions

So, to travel or not to travel? And what sort of travel? A flight? A train? A coach? Everyone has a different idea, but ultimately the Foreign Office will determine that to a certain extent.

“Every day brings a new challenge and a new set of rules. I hope we’re all looking forward to the next thing they’re going to throw at us.”

I’m being asked many questions. What flights are going and when? What will seating be like? Will we have to wear masks? What about check-in? What about going to the loo on a plane? And what will be open if we do go? It’s impossible to answer most of these questions, as no one knows yet, and different destinations have different approaches.

Every day brings a new challenge and a new set of rules. I hope we’re all looking forward to the next thing they’re going to throw at us.


Refrund

‘Thanks’ seems to be the hardest word

A new customer had his holiday cancelled due to Covid-19. He had paid in full and wanted a refund, but the operator was using the force majeure clause and was adamant it would only issue a credit note, which the customer refused. After some time and explanation, it started to get heated. The customer wanted a refund and said he had approached the small claims court.

After many emails, phone calls and upsetting conversations, I called in our directors, as I felt I could not offer anything more. The matter was eventually taken to the operator’s head office in the US. Not long after this, the customer was given a full refund, with the operator even paying the £200 court costs. Needless to say, we received no thank you for the work we had done to help him.

Being on the frontline can be a thankless task sometimes.

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