Customer satisfaction levels across the travel sector have fallen to the lowest level in more than a decade as companies struggled to confront the Covid-19 crisis.

New data shows that it saw the greatest drop across all industries, falling by 1.8 points year-on-year to 77.7 – the lowest score since 2009 – as the tourism industry battled to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall customer satisfaction dropped to its lowest level since July 2015, according to Institute of Customer Service research.

A total of 14.4% of customers in the tourism sector reported experiencing a problem, 4.9 percentage points higher than in January 2020.

The industry came under scrutiny throughout the year over its handling of holiday cancellations and refunds.

Therefore, it is “unsurprising” that the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) also found the proportion of problems surrounding an organisation not keeping its promises and commitments had risen by 4 percentage points, to 18.1%.

Tui suffered a 3.2 percentage point drop in satisfaction levels to 76.9 while Jet2holidays saw a lesser fall of 0.7% to 81.3.

Premier Inn was top across the tourism sector with a satisfaction level of 82.4. Only Marriott and Butlin’s in the top ten in the sector saw an improvement.

Direct Line was rated top overall out of 50 companies, with Premier Inn in 15th place, Jet2holidays 26th, Booking.com 38th and Marriott 42nd.

The types of issues customers contacted organisations about also changed due to government guidance against travel.

The proportion of experiences concerned with making a purchase fell by 10.5 percentage points, from 47% to 36.5%, while the proportion of experiences specifically about enquiries, problems or complaints increased.

Despite more people turning to digital services throughout lockdown restrictions, customer satisfaction with email and app experiences fell.

The proportion of in person experiences in the tourism sector was down by 7.9 percentage points to 14.3%. The number of experiences conducted via an organisation’s website also fell, by 5.2 points, to 48.7%, meanwhile, the number of email experiences increased, to 15.1%.

Overall customer satisfaction fell to its lowest level since July 2015 with an increasing number of consumers reporting dissatisfaction with the levels of service received.

The UKCSI, which rates customer satisfaction across 13 sectors, claims to be the most in-depth cross-sector measurement of customer service in the UK, with 10,000 consumers polled every six months.

Institute of Customer Service chief executive Jo Causon said: “We are navigating one of the most challenging periods in our living history.

“Following a year of travel disruption, cancellations and refunds, the tourism sector in particular has a significant uphill battle ahead to regain consumer confidence.

“In the face of ongoing uncertainty, today’s results are an urgent wake-up call for organisations to make service a boardroom priority, or risk undermining recovery as consumers look to return to travelling later this year.

“Customer service is a key enabler of business performance. In an increasingly complex customer experience environment, a bad encounter makes the difference between a one-off transaction and a long-term, loyal customer.

“As the UK economy continues to feel the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis, maintaining excellent levels of service will be key to pulling the nation out of recession.”

Causon added: “The polarising impact of the pandemic is evident. As the gaps in our society grow ever wider, brands must take the time to understand who they serve – and how they serve them.

“The scrutiny the sector faced throughout 2020 will be damaging to reputations, but those that focus on customer service moving forward will be in the strongest position to survive the crisis and prosper long into the future.”