More tour operators will insist on direct payments from customers to protect themselves in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, according to the boss of trade-only brand Gold Medal.

Lisa McAuley, managing director B2B for dnata Travel Europe, said it was not a move currently being planned by Gold Medal, but said she could see “benefits” for both suppliers and agents despite the impact on the latter’s cash flow.

She told a Travel Weekly webcast: “One of the things that we’ll see is tour operators taking payments directly, which is something that the cruise lines do.

“The agents are still receiving commission and the partnership will still be there. That obviously will have an impact on their cash flow – and I’m not saying this is something that we will do – but I can understand why there will be benefits to both parties.”

She added: “The risk is limited on the tour operator side and, potentially, it means that the agent won’t have the stress and angst when they’re not in a position to refund because the tour operator has taken a stance on refunding.”

McAuley’s comments echo those of Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, who told a recent Future of Travel Week debate that operators had mooted the concept following the collapse of Thomas Cook last year and said things were “doubly worse” as a result of Covid.

McAuley also predicted a move away by agents from dynamic packaging in light of the pandemic.

“We’ve already heard and had conversations with some people [agents] who have said they won’t dynamically package as much,” she said.

“I get that, which then as a tour operator, you think okay, because that’s, that’s my stronghold.”

Asked if she felt this presented an opportunity for Gold Medal, Pure Luxury, Cruise Plus and Incredible Journeys, McAuley replied: “I do, yes.”

McAuley also said the issue of collecting customer data, which had raised its head following the collapse of Thomas Cook last year, had become pertinent again in the Covid crisis.

“We said post Thomas Cook that tour operators were going to look at taking customer data directly, with no intention whatsoever of marketing to them – certainly I wouldn’t.

“But it just makes operating in a crisis or when people fail, it makes your operation easier and smoother to run. And you’ve got to think about this from the customer’s perspective; for the customer, the advice is to look at who your tour operator is on your Atol certificate.

“Now we’ve had this [Covid]. If we have the customer data…it would be a lot easier.”

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