Tour operators say they will be reviewing which partners they work with after the Covid-19 crisis

Speaking as part of Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week, Lisa McAuley, managing director of B2B tour operations at Gold Medal and Travel 2 parent dnata said: “Not everybody has been acting honourably.

“We are still struggling with certain airlines out there that are refusing to refund. We haven’t had too many problems at all from cruise lines and hotels, and I don’t think anybody wants to proactively cause anybody any hardship, but tour operators and agents have long memories. Going forward we will support the supplier who supported us through this.”

She confirmed: “We will be reviewing our supplier list.”

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Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides said it would be “impossible” for Abta members to refund monies while airlines continue flying – and therefore don’t pay refunds to operators.

“That’s going to cause absolutely catastrophic problems no matter what size you are,” he said.

Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, noted the “very difficult relationship” operators have with hoteliers. He said: “We are looking at a situation where both sides have to take part of the hit. Some suppliers have been honest and recognised the situation, and some I have to say haven’t.

“Some countries governments have been advising suppliers don’t give refunds and issue vouchers – often only to be used by the named customer who made the original booking. We are likely to see a lot of operators reviewing a number of the suppliers that they deal with.”

He said that there was a debate in Germany over whether BSP payments owed to airlines should only be released on the day flights take off – in response to airlines insisting that agents and operators should pay the air fare as soon as they make the booking.

“As we know the airlines are going to say ‘absolutely not’, but that would be a great way of ensuring we’re not in the situation we have been for the last six months.”

Josephides said Sunvil would also be considering which agents it works with after the crisis. He said the operator had refunded some agents before getting calls from clients who hadn’t receive the money.

“I can see the agents are desperate for cash flow,” he said. “I have every sympathy. Relationships between airlines, tour operators, travel agents and hoteliers have got to change. We all need a lot more flexibility.”

McAuley said choosing agency partners is “absolutely critical”. “Everybody has taken a financial hit,” she said. “We’ve seen failures over the last few weeks, we will see more and we have to limit our exposure.”

Noting that as a B2B operator, Gold Medal can’t pivot to selling direct, she said: “I’ve heard a lot of agents saying how they’ll be choosing their tour operators wisely because of how they’ve handled themselves in this crisis – but that applies the other way.

“It’s less about how the agent has handled themselves in this crisis – I’ve seen exemplary scenarios – our challenge will be working with agents that are financially stable and ca see this crisis through.”

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