CAA should give agents ample time for any adjustments in its review, argues Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan

So, we are up and running. Taking a holiday is no longer illegal and we have a list of green destinations.

While I had been hoping for a small list that introduced little prospect of those destinations moving to amber, even I was underwhelmed.

You know a list is small when it needs to be padded out with two destinations you won’t be going to this year and a further one that caused travel agents up and down the country to get their atlases out (OK, to Google it!).

Nevertheless, it is a start. And in my view, an initial large list that soon had to be changed would have been worse in the long term for us than a small list that grows.

Consumer confidence is fragile at the moment and further uncertainty with traffic light destination changes would not only damage this summer’s sales but would also hit forward bookings for 2022 and beyond.

Enquiries rise

Despite the efforts of Mr Shapps, an Indian variant and the boss of an online travel agency on a cheap publicity drive, our sales over the past two weeks have been the best in 14 months.

Cruise continues to drive this increase and it is so exciting to see ships preparing to sail again, albeit just around the UK. It’s a very important start. Both Clia, the cruise trade body, and the cruise lines themselves deserve huge plaudits for their efforts over recent months.

Before the announcement of the green list, a huge proportion of our sales was driven directly as a result of our marketing activity, through Zoom events, social media and the like. Now we are seeing natural enquiries come through, especially now our shops have reopened.

This is great news and a huge morale boost for my staff, our back-office teams and myself as the business owner. The tunnel has been long and dark and, while it is still tiny steps, it is a start and one we all, as an industry, deserve.

Protection review

After the past 14 months or so and, before that, the demise of Thomas Cook, the Civil Aviation Authority is rightly reviewing regulation in the industry. I fully support efforts to ensure customers feel safe and secure financially when booking a holiday; it’s crucial.

The refund issue since Covid has truly exposed our industry. But my question is a simple one: does the CAA have the right target in its sights?

I have spoken to lots of senior executives from holiday companies over the past year. They all wanted to refund as soon as possible and they all wanted to do the right thing for our mutual customers. So why often did they not follow that through? The answer is very simple: the airlines simply flatly refused to refund. This put huge pressure on tour operators at a time when they were not holding the customer’s cash.

Yes, money can be put into trust funds. But it is vital, if this is the route chosen, that it includes the airlines. Without that, no lessons will have been learnt from this pandemic.

The timing of any change is crucial, though. Channelling all cash collected now into a trust fund – just as cash is at its lowest after Covid – would place massive financial pressure on agents’ day-to-day cashflows at the worst time. If too onerous, this could even push sales to unregulated providers and put customers more at risk. Never mind the virus, such a new regime would be the ‘third wave’ for agents and operators.

So my message to the regulators is: give us ample time for this adjustment, and please don’t even bother doing it if you don’t include the airlines. To agents and operators, I say be prepared; this third wave is coming and you need to be financially ready.

It’s all green shoots and potential banana skins. Thankfully, demand for travel will always be strong, but we need to keep pushing on and out of ‘Covidworld’ – and to watch out for that third wave.