Agents facing long waits as operator trade teams furloughed

Agents fear their jobs will get tougher in the coming weeks as large numbers of their supplier contacts are furloughed through the government’s Job Retention Scheme.

Operators have deactivated phone numbers and emails for their trade sales and on-the-road teams and some have shut their travel agent Facebook pages to adhere to the rules of the government’s furlough scheme.

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Agents’ calls and enquiries are being diverted to smaller teams working remotely to handle rebookings, credit notes and refunds.

Paul Knapper, owner of Spires Travel, said: “We have had eight to 10 emails from our tour operator area reps to say we will not be able to speak to the people we normally speak to.

The Facebook pages for the trade have been shut down and all emails and numbers deactivated.

“It’s going to be harder for us now. It seems crazy they cannot work while being furloughed on 80% of their pay.”

Niall Douglas, managing director of Full Circle Travel, warned communication between agents and operators could worsen as summer approaches and there are more holidays to potentially rebook or more refunds being demanded.

“I don’t know many operators who haven’t furloughed their on-the-road staff and other non-essential staff,” he said. “Most calls to operators now take hours. In the past, we would have asked the business development managers to get someone to contact us. It is particularly worrying where this will leave us when we get to July and August, with the sheer number of holidays.”

Tracey Carter, director at Carrick Travel, which has furloughed 39 of its 50 staff across its 11 branches, said: “Many of our [operator] contacts have been furloughed, although it is slightly easier now to get through to operators on the phone [than it has been].”

It came as a couple spoke of how they had to wait on hold for more than eight hours by Virgin Holidays to enquire about a refund for their cancelled Kenya honeymoon.

David and Natalie Rogers told the BBC: “We were quite angry about having to wait on hold for over eight hours, and a message on the line saying that travellers should have already received a voucher for their missed holidays. It just felt like we’d been forgotten about.”

Virgin Holidays also told the couple it would not be issuing any refunds or rebookings, and that they had to claim from their insurer.

They then spent hours on hold to their insurer, only to be told that the package holiday operator was legally liable.

Virgin Holidays initially said that it would not be offering the couple a full refund because they had managed to leave the UK for a short time.

However, the operator decided to issue a full refund “as a gesture of goodwill” after intervention by the BBC.

A Virgin Holidays spokesman said: “We fully understand the disappointment for any customer whose holiday was cut short due to UK government advice changing and will be happy to help customers affected receive a refund for any unused elements of their holiday, such as accommodation costs.

“Because confirmation from suppliers, such as hotels, may not always be possible, we may refer customers to engage with their travel insurer at the same time to ensure as swift an outcome as possible.”

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