Agents call for more bookable websites as long operator call wait times continue

Travel agents are calling on tour operators to make their websites bookable and more user-friendly as they continue to struggle to contact suppliers on the phone.

Agents said long wait times, amid surging demand and call centre staff shortages, were aggravated by a lack of online bookability, while some operator sites were error-prone.

Jenny Jackson, who runs Luxury Travel Gurus and Facebook group Travel Agent Rants and Raves, said the lack of bookable and fully-functioning operator websites had been two of the “biggest issues” as agents continued to face waits of up to “five hours” to speak to call centre staff.

“If companies have trade bookable sites [that work], it saves us having to call,” she said. “If they don’t, clients get fed up, find the holiday online and book it themselves.”

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Deben Travel owner Lee Hunt has switch-sold because booking online was not possible with the prefered operator and wait times too long. He said: “It’s embarrassing if a client is with us and we spend an hour trying to get through on the phone and the operator’s site is not bookable. We have to book elsewhere.”

Tivoli Travel director Jo Richards has been frustrated at not being able to make small amendments online, saying: “Nothing is straightforward.”

Niall Douglas, managing director of Full Circle Travel, reported “weird error messages” on operator’s booking sites, adding: “It’s a nightmare. We’ve lost bookings.”

Kuoni and Classic Collection Holidays are among operators without bookable trade sites. Kuoni switched off its bookable site last September “to give a better service to agents by having a conversation about what customers are looking for”.

Online bookings were less than 3% of trade sales, with higher conversion rates from speaking to staff, Kuoni said. It is recruiting more call centre staff to keep hold times “to a minimum”.

A spokeswoman added: “We think we can give agents better service by having a conversation about what their customers are looking for – and they’ll get a holiday which exceeds their expectations as a result.”

Classic Collection was asked to comment.

Trade-only operator USAirtours switched its bookable website back on after turning it off during Covid.

It said agent visits had doubled compared with the same time in 2019, with many agents using it to price up holidays, not necessarily to book.

Chief executive Guy Novik said this partly because more homeworkers were booking out of office hours but also because “we are not as easy to get through to since downsizing.”

The company is now answering calls in under four minutes, he said, and has started to take on staff. It now has 47 employees, compared with 32 during the pandemic and 82 pre-pandemic.

He said: “We like the fact agents are using our site because it’s one less call we have to take.”

Club Med recently switched off its phone lines to both travel agents and direct customers “for a short period of time” to clear the large backlog of “thousands” of enquiries.

The operator said it had supported agents with the call centre continuing to do outbound calls to solve any issues. It said it had now managed to “drastically improve” answering times and efficiency.

Club Med managing director Estelle Giraudeau said: “Over the past couple of months we have been working hard to balance the refund process alongside a massive influx of enquiries as borders reopened and our customers wanted to get back to going abroad.”

She added: “Our phone lines are now back up and running and we have bolstered our booking department to help with the increasing number of bookings and inbound calls we are now seeing and we have managed.”

Despite agents citing issues with its website, she said the site was “constantly improving” and now represented 40% of indirect bookings.


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