Travel agents have pleaded with suppliers to return to pre-Covid terms and conditions and simplify trade booking processes to reduce crippling workloads and unmanageable call wait times.
Agents told Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Spring Forum they faced major challenges to service pent-up demand.
Fears raised ranged from the volume of work, exacerbated by suppliers’ flexible booking conditions, to lengthy operator call wait times and their impact on customer service.
Baldwins Travel joint managing director Nick Marks questioned when suppliers would revert to pre‑Covid booking terms.
“When are we going to bring back the terms and conditions from 2019 and reduce all the work we’re doing?” he asked. “We’re doubling everything we’re doing. Who’s going to put their head above the parapet and say it’s going to stop soon?”
Abta chairman Alistair Rowland agreed the industry “should get back to the way things were” and warned extending flexible conditions would “show in pricing”.
Agents also called on suppliers to enable them to make straightforward changes on their booking systems without a phone call.
Travel Village Group managing director Phil Nuttall said: “Operators could really help us by allowing us to do simple things on the systems such as name changes, dates of birth, things like that. We wouldn’t have to wait trying to get through on the phones.”
Jenny Jackson, who runs Luxury Travel Gurus and Facebook group Travel Agent Rants and Raves, said morale among agents and call centre staff was at an “all-time low”.
She also pleaded with suppliers to review their trade booking systems to allow small amendments. “It would be so good instead of holding on [the phone] for hours,” she said.
The Travel Network Group chief executive Gary Lewis called lengthy call wait times a “massive issue” and warned of an “immediate impact” on customer service if agents could not respond quickly to clients. “The risk is people will book direct,” he said.
Agents cited particular problems contacting Jet2holidays in the past two months, including Sutton Travel managing director Andy Tomlinson, who said: “We regularly wait two to two-and-a-half hours in a phone queue. The call then cuts off and we have to start again. We like working with Jet2 but it’s mightily frustrating.”
A Jet2holidays spokesman said the call centre was experiencing “a lot of demand” but stressed: “We are working tirelessly to keep lines of communication open.”
The operator urged agents to use its electronic amendment form and said it was increasing the size of its dedicated call centre trade team.
Other suppliers, including NCL and Kuoni, insisted call wait times were “seconds”. Kuoni product director Claire Ross said the operator had enjoyed new trade business “because we do answer calls” and had already reverted to pre-Covid booking conditions by withdrawing its Flex+ policy. However, it has no plans to allow agents to amend bookings themselves.
Other operators plan a return to pre-Covid booking conditions.
Cosmos Tours has resumed normal terms for 2023 departures but kept its ‘peace of mind’ policy for 2022.
The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) head of commercial Bharat Gadhoke insisted it was “unlikely Aito members will abandon pre‑Covid terms”, but added: “Things are not yet back to normal.”