Agents have ‘turned into counsellors’ for frustrated customers

Travel agents say mass rebookings off the back of a fresh wave of customer confusion over travel restrictions to Spain mean they won’t take any income for a full year.

Agents speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast said they’ve “turned into counsellors” for their clients who are increasingly wanting to push back holidays – regardless of destination – since the government advised against all non-essential travel to Spain.

David Walker, a Not Just Travel agent who goes by The Travel Snob, said: “I’ve had a steady flow of cancellations, but as of Monday I had five cancel that were going to the US in December. Normally I’m ringing people a couple of months before to say we are on it, but for them to ring me was a lot earlier to cancel and rebook.”

Kate Harris, of Inspired Travel, said “nobody wants to go” to America and that she had to tell customers on an Orlando booking in the autumn who had paid for their flights in full to “sit there and wait” because American Airlines is only changing flights up to September 30.

On a 60th birthday multi-destination booking for a west coast US trip, Harris said she was waiting for individual hotels to confirm whether date changes were permitted.

“You find yourself drip-feeding your clients to try and control their anger and their frustration. We’ve turned into counsellors.”

Walker added that he had four “big” South Africa bookings in October and November. “Because the flights are still operating, there’s little we can do”.

He said that because airlines release schedules 11 months in advance, he can’t rebook them for the same time the following year, which they requested.

“Clients don’t understand why we can’t just tell them we’ll move it to next year,” he said.

And he explained that while agents are working hard on these bookings, they are “still losing money”. “We’re moving their summer holiday to Easter [2021], and they would’ve gone away at Easter. We have to wait for it, so we have lost out,” he said.

Harris said a couple who’d seen their wedding in the UK cancelled were waiting for two months to find out if they were entitled to a refund on their honeymoon flights.

“Now they’ve been allowed to cancel but we can’t rebook,” she said. “All anyone wants to do when it’s your honeymoon is have it booked and sorted to look forward to. They’re already still dealing with the devastation of a cancelled wedding.”

Harris added: “Most of us will lose 12 month of business for this. We will have a year with no income.”

Haslemere Travel owner Gemma Antrobus said clients booked to destinations such as Croatia, France and Greece this summer had been ready to pay balances on Friday, but on Monday had changed their mind following the changes to the government’s advice on Spain.

She said: “That money we would’ve seen coming in in the next four to six weeks, is not. You know you are going to get the bookings eventually, but you’ve got to get there.”

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