By Ben Ireland in Ibiza

Tui says it now has the capability to process refunds within the accepted pre-Covid consumer deadline of 14 days.

UK managing director Andrew Flintham has previously apologised for how Tui handled refunds at the start of the pandemic as 1.5 million of its summer 2020 holidays were cancelled.

The operator has also seen its position on the MoneySavingExpert list of best and worst travel companies for refunds improve, with its -60 net score in May jumping to a -21 net score this week.

Speaking to Travel Weekly in Ibiza on a media trip ahead of the restart of Tui’s summer programme, Flintham said: “We haven’t really had a policy change the whole way through. Cancelling 1.5 million people’s holidays was not something we were expecting, and to be honest not something we were prepared for.”

He rebutted accusations from consumer groups that the operator had been purposefully prolonging the refund process to hold onto cash, saying: “We always said we would first of all try to rebook customers and if they didn’t want to we would offer them a cash refund. We offered them incentives to keep their bookings.

“The challenge in the early days was that we couldn’t physically process that amount of refunds. It was really about the process, not our willingness.”

Flintham explained how Tui had to create a “whole new process” of setting up its travel agents to work from home – and that 1,000 staff who were set up to work remotely were then tasked processing the refunds, the backlog of which is still being worked through.

This, he said, meant that the company is now set up to deal with refunds more quickly if there was another spike in infection rates and another wave of travel restrictions and cancellations.

Noting that there was unlikely to be cancellations on the same scale as March, April and May, he added: “We are confident that, for holidays cancelled in August, we could give refunds within 14 days. The structure is there now. He had to evolve, but we now have that capability.”

Flintham clarified that he was confident the entire process, which involves first applying for a refund credit voucher, then opting against it and choosing a cash refund, could be completed within 14 days with the new structure in place – if there was a new wave of claims.