Agents are coming up against a Little Britain-style “computer says no” attitude from some suppliers as they try to rebook cancelled holidays and place bookings for new ones.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Tony Mann, managing director of Idle Travel in Bradford, said: “There are some green shoots out there. They are small steps but I say to all the tour operators – come on, let’s get through this. We’re trying to swap holidays or we’re actually trying to give you some new holidays, and you wouldn’t believe some of the things we get told on the phone.

“It’s like they say: ‘Oh sorry. Computer says no’. We’re a bit like that Little Britain sketch at the moment, which is frustrating.”

Mann added: “When suppliers say ‘it’s unprecedented, I know it is because I’ve lived it for far too long. Don’t tell me, because I’m invested in a company that’s not making any money! So let’s just get on with it.”

He continued: “I don’t think anybody has set out to harm any of our businesses, but it’s very important to have people there to listen to us.

“I would say to companies, after we have sat on the phone to them for hours and hours, that it’s a fine line between trying to invest now and bring back more boots on the ground – or potentially missing out on new business.”

Mann said: “We’ve had people flying this week. It’s not for every one of our customers, I absolutely realise that but for those who want to, let’s make it easy for it to happen as well and not put obstacles in the way.”

Richard Dixon, director at Holidaysplease, said the lack of support staff was causing problems.

“It’s absolutely causing an obstacle. And it’s something that we’re speaking with our key suppliers about at the moment,” he said.

“It’s not just about new business, it’s about managing rebookings and cancellations as well. I think suppliers are aware, but obviously they’re working within the limitations of their particular business positions.

“I think suppliers are bringing back growing numbers of head office staff so that they can support this, but there’s still a massive gap between the kind of service we would normally expect and the service we’re receiving as agents.”

Joanne Dooey, director of Love To Travel and SPAA president, said: “Because we have had such a good relationship with the business development managers that are out there on the road, and they are very supportive of agents, not having that support just now has been difficult.

“There are some players out there that you are hanging on the phones for three, four hours, and it’s not just the likes of Tui – there’s lots of other ones.

“So we are having an issue with some, and then there’s others that have been absolutely amazing in how they’ve dealt with it.

“As long as we can see that people are starting to come back. If we’re starting to bring staff back to the high street and homeworkers are working, they need to start getting more people working from a tour operating point of view as well.”

Dooey added: “We do understand and we know they’ve got people in there who are multi-tasking, and working in different departments, but it isn’t helping when you know what you’re talking about, and you get onto somebody and they really don’t. That’s causing a big frustration for a lot of agents out there right now.”