Communication has been “key” during the refunds row amid the Covid crisis, and operators say companies that were honest will thrive when travel returns

Speaking as part of Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week, dnata UK’s managing director of 2B operations, Lisa McAuley, said dnata “had to pull down the shutters” at the start of the crisis “because we needed to re-engineer pretty much every process that we had”.

She added: “There is a thought that your future trading and reputation will absolutely be based on how you’ve handles this crisis. I would like to think that for the companies that have handled this well that absolutely is the case and people won’t go back to having short memories and just make price the driver of choosing who they book with.

See the full line-up for the Future of Travel Week and register for early access to each day’s content.

“It’s easy to focus on the guys who have not handled this well, but there are a number of travel companies that have handled this better. The key to it, for me, has been communication. People can live with bad news, it’s uncertainty they can’t live with.”

“We are brands that are renowned for industry-leading, trade-facing, and the last thing you want to do is not communicate.”

She said a weekly “warts and all” round-up was sent out every Friday, adding: “Personally I would rather be communicating and be transparent and receive what could be bad news than receive no news whatsoever.”

Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides said the operator “took a decision to be very honest” by telling customers they couldn’t refund within two weeks, instead telling customers it could take about six weeks.

“We didn’t get a single complaint, and we had quite a few thousands [of cancellations]. So good communication was very important.”

He said that “at the beginning [of the pandemic] we all thought this was only going to take a few months.”

But he said companies have now realised “we’re going to need a lot more money” because “this is going to go on”.

Josephides called on the DfT to commit to ensuring refund credit notes are financially protected after September 30 as he predicted a difficult winter.

“People are realising they are going to have to keep cancelling holidays with what’s going on. It’s not going to be an easy time at all,” he said. “You do a forecast today and your forecast is out of date in the next week. That’s very difficult and you just hope the regulators actually understand that. We’re going to need a lot of understanding going forward in the next few months”

He said he did not expect any sector-specific support for the travel industry, despite the attempts of lobby groups for a travel-specific extension to the furlough scheme.

McAuley agreed. “It’s highly unlikely and that’s not throwing criticism at anybody, it’s just that there are other industries out there that are also suffering”, she said, warning: “Don’t forecast and plan your operation on something that isn’t concrete.”