The new chief executive of Hotelplan says his team is “ready to hustle” and make quick decisions as soon as there is some clarity over the “terrible mess” the government has made over Brexit.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast 10 weeks after taking the helm at the Swiss-owned business, which operates brands including Inghams, Ski Esprit, Santa’s Lapland and Explore, Joe Ponte said: “It’s almost impossible to understate the combined impact of Brexit and the Covid virus on all the businesses within our group.
“My personal take is I have no idea how we got ourselves into this terrible mess [with Brexit]. We’re literally five minutes to midnight. We’ve got 20 days to go and there is still no clarity around all the different elements of what Brexit’s going to entail.”
Ponte said there were multiple areas where his team were in the dark over what will happen, making planning incredibly difficult.
“We have a team internally that is looking at the 11 different impact areas of Brexit for us and we’ve just had to work on different scenarios, because for half of them, there is no outcome yet,” he said.
“There’s no outcome on labour; we don’t understand how Toms (Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme) and VAT’s going to happen; we don’t understand Foreign Exchange – the impact on that. There’s going to be so many different areas that we’re just going to have to react to.”
Ponte added: “We’re just basically working through all the different permutations and all the different elements, whether it’s our ability to staff the chalets with British kids, like we always have done forever; what are the implications of not being able to do that, and across all those different elements, we’ve just done our best to highlight the level of risk and then have as clear a plan as possible.
“But as I said to the team, we can’t have clarity so what we need to be able to do, come January 1, 2021, is be ready to hustle; ready to react and make decisions based on what the outcome is going to be – because no-one knows.”
Commenting on current Covid-19 rules for travel within the EU which could restrict movement from the UK after its departure, Ponte said agents would need to make informed decisions when their clients requested late ski holidays on the continent.
He said: “Every agent needs to make a decision that they’re comfortable with. We’ve got a lot of people that desperately want to go. In fact, we’re still getting as many bookings late into this season as we are getting into next season because, as we know, skiers like to ski.
“So I would advise agents just to check with the operator that they’re booking with, and check on their history about the refund process, so that if their client can’t travel, when are they going to get the money back, so that they know and they can make that promise to the customer.
“They need to be able to say; ‘Here’s where I can book you on, this organisation has done everything they can to create a safe environment, and if you can’t go, this is what is going to happen.’ And they should be able to show some proof about what that operator has done previously.”
Ponte said Hotelplan brands would be flexible if Brits were not allowed into European destinations.
“The way in which we operated historically has proven that,” he added. “If trips are cancelled, and you can’t go, then people have that opportunity to get their money back and we’ve been refunding people the entire time.
“It was a bit hard at the beginning just to get it up and running, but as soon as we could, we got our processes in place, and even on all the stuff we’re suspending right now, everyone has that opportunity for a full refund if they want it.”