Coronavirus: Travel firms’ employees ‘should be essential workers’

Trade leaders say agents and tour operator staff should be classed as ‘essential workers’ as they continue to rebook customers while their businesses lose money hand over fist.

Many travel firms plan to apply for the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which sees the state cover them for up to 80% of their employees’ wages if they cannot work as a result of the coronavirus.

However, some bosses say their teams are as busy as ever, but issuing refunds and processing cancellations rather than selling holidays and bringing in revenue.

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Phil Nuttall, managing director of the Travel Village Group, has written to Abta to ask the trade association to lobby government to place agents in this category (see below).

He wrote: “Furlough is great, but for the travel industry it would be wholly appropriate for government to give some exemption to Abta members who need more people working to keep up with the demand of administration and refunds.”

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Nuttall added: “We are dealing with cancellations and rebookings, and to keep customer service levels up, we need an exception. These are frontline workers helping thousands of people and the government needs to recognise that.”

Charles Duncombe, director of homeworking firm Holidaysplease, said: “The government should provide a dispensation to the travel industry whereby assisting customers with travel arrangements should not prevent that member of staff as being classed as furloughed.

“Our industry is providing a vital service for British citizens and it would simply swamp the Foreign Office if we were to take a step back and furlough ourselves. We are not earning income for these services so it’s not a case of trying to earn twice.”

Kuoni boss Derek Jones underlined the difference between travel and other sectors – pointing out the case of Pure Gym, which he said had “100% stop of revenue, but also a 100% reduction in cost”.

In a video interview with Travel Weekly, he said: “The travel industry is not that simple. When it shuts down, it doesn’t shut down.”

Phil Nuttall’s letter to Abta

Please will you make representation to government about Furlough and the impact this is having on key front line workers within the industry.

I don’t need to tell you that we are in a position where the vast majority of work is being transacted by administration / account teams / care teams within the industry and very little coming back in.

We are in effect servicing cancellations and refunds and look like doing so for some considerable time.

Furlough is great, but for the travel industry it would be wholly appropriate for government to give some exemption to ABTA members who need more people working to keep up with the demand of administration and refunds.

Furloughing the people who the customers rely on is not helpful unless they can receive exemption and allowed to work in an administrative/accountancy capacity under Furlough.

These people can volunteer, but not to work for the same company!

A great number of agents are just administering huge volume of bookings and this is going to get worse as we approach summer.

Also, and equally as important is the situation concerning balances of payment.

Please can we seek a common ground across the industry where all balances are deferred to 28 days prior to departure.

This will give agents breathing space and customers confidence to sit tight and await further instruction and allow the industry to process bookings that are due to depart imminently.

Thank you and look forward to a positive response.

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