The delay from the government in confirming that refund credit notes (RCNs) are financially protected has left the travel industry battling to maintain the trust of customers, suppliers say.
Speaking as part of Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week, Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides said: “I sometimes wonder if [the government] are really interested in what happens to us.”
He said RCNs never being ratified was “very bad form on the part of government”. While he defended the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Department for Transport, he criticised BEIS, the Competition and Markets Authority and Financial Conduct Authority for their lack of response at the height of the pandemic.
“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “We want a bit of sympathy. We want them to say they understand this and they’re looking at this. We have lost trust, which is a great shame as it wasn’t necessary that we should lose trust – but we have.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said: “People didn’t believe us when we said refund credit notes would be protected. Even though the CAA wanted to say something, they couldn’t because they were beholden to the Department for Transport. Then the Department for Transport had to go and talk to the Treasury.
“People thought we were lying to them. I have to say congratulations to Abta and the CAA for designing the whole idea because without that, if everybody had insisted on refunds – as the law says, within 14 days – quite frankly there wouldn’t be anybody left. The refund credit notes has been a big help, but to take 16 weeks to actually come out and say yes they it is protected was an appalling state of affairs.”
He called the government “absolutely hopeless” in regards to its understanding of the travel industry, noting the recent change in aviation minister in the middle of Covid-19. He said there was “no indication that the government is in the slightest bit interested in the industry.”
Bowen added: “Travel agents were in the firing line from day one. Airlines just basically said you will get your money when you get your money; or in some case they wouldn’t.”
Noting the length of time it took for refunds to be processed often kept getting extended, he added: “If we want people to trust us, then they’ve got to be able to see that when we say we’ll do something we’ll do it.”
For a lot of simple holidays now they will go online and book it without going into a travel agent. We’ve got to show them there’s value, and the value is that when we say we’ll do things we do them.”
Lisa McAuley, managing director of B2B tour operations at Gold Medal and Travel 2 parent dnata, agreed but said it was important for the industry to “put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer”.
“A number of customers have suffered damage through this as well,” she said. “Fundamentally, consumers are an organisations’ reason for being and their survival. The consumer’s loyalty and commitment is all underpinned by trust and unfortunately they feel like they’ve had a violation of trust.
“There are no winners in any of this. Yes, we’ve got agents, airlines and tour operators suffering reputational damage of their brand through no fault of their own, but we have to remember the customer as well.”
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