Luxury tour operators have praised agents who have “been to hell and back” during the pandemic and encouraged them to command a premium for their service in the future.

Carrier managing director Mark Duguid said he believed agents had “been available, showed empathy and been flexible” and that they had worked hard to “do the best for their clients”.

Duguid, who recently encouraged agents to “place real value on their service” in a guest column for Travel Weekly’s sister title Aspire, said a number of retail partners had contacted him agreeing that they should “command a premium for their service” and saying they planned to remodel their businesses.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, he said: “Agents have been to hell and back, but they’ve been there, they’ve been available, showed empathy and been flexible. They’ve done the best for their clients. People that DIY-ed with someone like Airbnb this summer have not had any of that service or experience.”

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Paul Cleary, managing director of Caribtours, said the pandemic had brought out the “real spirit of partnerships” between agents and operators.

“Agents have had a really tough time – it’s been a horrible time to be a travel agent. If we think we [operators] have had a tough time, think of those agents who have very much been at the forefront of this battle,” he said. 

“The agents will say how well we’ve done but all we’ve done is everything they would expect from us – we’ve communicated and we’ve been honest.

“And we are not a pushover. We made no bones about it when it was relevant in those dark days of April that we weren’t looking to refund. We were desperately trying to protect our earnings and our cash, and [the agents’] earnings and cash. We worked with our agents in a real spirit of partnership to achieve that – and we achieved it in 70% of cases. In those cases where we were asked to give money back, we did. 

“All of this adversity has brought us a lot closer together with the agent.”

Lusso boss James Weaver said close relationships between his staff and agencies had been key. 

“In those early weeks we often had staff members in tears, and the reason why they were in tears was because of the pressure of the situation. Those agents they were talking to were great friends in many cases.

“It was about working through things together. But we’re very lucky we deal with some exceptional agents. They were on the frontline, dealing with the clients amid that confusion and unease. It was all about communication.”