A specialist youth tour operator which plans to work with more independent agents has introduced permanent zero deposits.

Student & Youth Travel Escapes (Syte) was set up six months ago by former STA Travel branch manager Arron Mitchell and is in the process of expanding its Atol, currently for  1,000 passengers in its first year.

It is already in talks with consortia and hopes to work with more agents from September and target independent agents selling to the youth market, particularly in towns which previously had a STA Travel branch.

The operator currently works with agents within Protected Trust Services, of which it is also a member, along with its separate agency business Platinum World Travel.  It sells a variety of travel, including adventure trips, backpacker working holidays, volunteer projects, city breaks and cruises.

Mitchell, co-director, said the new #truezero deposit scheme, trialled last year, aimed to create a hassle-free booking process long term and cut down the number of potential future refunds.

He said: “We wanted to make it clear and easy. Customers can book at a guaranteed price without worrying about losing the deposit.

“During Covid our biggest cost has been refunds. There is no point in taking money from the customer if it’s very uncertain as to whether the holiday will go ahead.

“As we don’t earn the money until the client actually steps foot on the aircraft we see little need to take a deposit. It’s also easier to get customers to amend their booking because there is no money involved.”

The agency holds the booking without any money exchanging hands until the balance is due up to six weeks before departure.

Mitchell said zero deposits were not yet offered on the entire product range. “Some of our suppliers are taking longer to come round,” he added.

The operator has also added its own reference to ‘traffic light’ terms and conditions by letting clients know at the balance due date which colour their destination falls into.

“We don’t want customers to feel obligated to pay balances on red list destinations only for us to return it a couple of weeks later,” added Mitchell. “It’s frustrating when a country is on the red list but the supplier still wants the balance and then three weeks later you have to do a refund. We are just trying to be realistic.”

Holidays on the red list will be cancelled by Syte and clients can amend at balance due date, while amber countries can also be amended for free.