The boss of trade-only operator USAirtours has praised Abta for championing the trade’s needs during the Covid-19 pandemic and says it is attempting to take agents out of the firing line over refunds.
Chief executive Guy Novik called Abta “absolutely magnificent” for its recent lobbying on the industry’s behalf to find a solution to the holiday refund crisis.
He admitted it was not a “universal view” but said: “They have had to fill a void in terms of trying to find a path forward. There has never been a year when I am happier to pay my subscription to Abta. They’ve really gone out there and done the very best they can.”
He commended Abta for fighting on the trade’s behalf when lobbying government, particularly as it also balances representing consumers’ interests.
He said: “Ultimately, they are a trade association. They’ve always had a fairly difficult path to tread in both representing consumers interests over the years and the travel industry that has quite a broad church.
“They have had to fight more for the trade and that hasn’t necessarily been in the short term interests of consumers.”
He stressed Abta was also fighting for consumers by working with the Civil Aviation Authority behind the scenes to ensure Refund Credit Notes were financially protected should a supplier fail.
He called Abta’s idea for Refund Credit Notes which have to be refunded in cash by the end of March next year as a “creative approach” to solve the problem of the legal 14-day window in which monies should be returned to consumers under current Package Travel Regulations.
Any earlier date than March next year would have resulted in travel company failures, he added. He said: “Ultimately, if Abta had gone for a shorter refund cycle, you would have seen people toppling over already in the travel business, they’d be going down like dominoes.”
Novik said around 50% of USAirtours’ business had been re-booked for next year and around half of those who did not want to re-book had accepted Refund Credit Notes.
Any customers wanting a refund were being given their money back as soon as the operator gets the funds back from its suppliers.
“We can’t afford to fund refunds where we haven’t had the refund back. And that’s frustrating because we know it’s our legal responsibility to do so in 14 days. We’re not shying away from that,” he added.
The operator has also put a page on its website to explain the refund process and urged its agents to direct customers to read it to avoid the agent getting the blame.
This explains that the customer’s contract is with the tour operator, which is responsible for collecting and refunding their money, not the travel agent.
“We are really conscious that the agents are in the firing line and have to deal with customers. We’re trying to really support them by taking the heat ourselves,” he said.