In this opinion piece for TravelMole.com, Travel Counsellors’ founder David Speakman says the travel industry should stop playing the victim and not wait for specific industry support, and also comments on RCNs, airline refunds, and Covid-19 testing at airports. The article refers to the UK industry, but the issues also apply in Ireland’s travel industry.
Six months since lockdown and the travel industry is on its knees. It can recover, but there is a lot more pain to come and people need to face some harsh realities and take some decisive steps:
Don’t wait for government help
The industry has to resign itself to having no specific industry support from the government. It should cease acting as a victim as it’s a distraction and, frankly, embarrassing.
Telling the public a handout is needed or ‘it’s toast’ will not encourage customers to book. More importantly it shows weakness when assertiveness is needed.
Instead, access the support that is available, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans. The deadline to apply for these has just been extended until 30 November.
Call out the airlines
The government might help airlines but in exchange for aid it must insist on better financial governance and force airlines to pay refunds in line with EU261.
Airlines are to blame for the refund logjam for which the industry is being criticised by the consumer – travel agents haven’t been able to refund customers for cancellations because they haven’t been able to get the money back from the airlines.
Travel industry stakeholders should have called out the airlines earlier and persuaded the government either to force airlines to refund or pay the refunds itself.
Refund Credit Notes (RCNs) aren’t the solution, instead they’ve allowed the issue to go unresolved and left companies on the brink of bankruptcy.
Consign RCNs to the past
Consumers should not be providing credit to the travel industry, for this reason RCNs were a mistake.
The industry must come together to ensure that customer money is protected until their holidays have been delivered. It’s fundamental and non-negotiable.
It’s been mooted that RCNs could be a permanent feature of travel refunds. I also understand that the virus can affect the mental capacity of many to think straight.
Ring-fence customers’ money
Trust funds will safeguard the ATOL-holder and consequently the consumer if the supplier goes bust, but of course they’re not a panacea, they don’t help if the supplier refuses to adhere to their legal obligations.
When the industry jumped on the RCN band wagon it was as though everyone had slept through the costly presentations on Customer Service, Customer Experience and CX seminars.
The industry decided to man the lifeboats with captain and officers, leaving the crew and passengers to fend for themselves. The basis of trust in any relationship is being selfless, yet many in the industry put themselves before the customer.
It must now be the aim of the CAA to insist on trust accounts for all ATOL holders. It can’t happen overnight as it’s impossible for most companies to instantly comply, but the CAA will make it more difficult to obtain an ATOL for those companies without trust funds, forcing applicants to realise that these are the way forward.
Airports must set their stall out to attract customers. Queues at check- in should be minimal and security lines should be reduced so paying to queue jump becomes unnecessary. More staff should be hired to avoid long queues, which will otherwise become inevitable due to social distancing. Let’s make the customer experience better.
Question quarantine with scientific fact
The industry should fight for its survival by challenging the science that has so weakened it. The government is now talking of introducing ‘vaccination certificates’ that would insist on people proving they’d been vaccinated before they fly. It would be a tragedy for the country and the industry if airlines, in exchange for financial support, acquiesced to the implementation of such a thing. As yet there is no known safe vaccination for Covid, these things take at least five years to develop and it would be against people’s civil liberty to force them to be vaccinated, especially with a vaccine that’s been rushed into production. Far from encouraging travel, it would limit it in the long run.
Don’t pin all hopes on airport testing
Covid-testing at airports has been suggested as a way to eliminate or reduce quarantine and reinvigorate travel, but can airports be trusted to implement testing in an efficient way? Their track record on managing check-in and security queues is abysmal.
London Heathrow has claimed it is ready to test 13,000 arriving passengers a day, but there are twice that many arriving per day at the moment, and it’s only operating at 25% of its normal capacity.
If tests can’t be carried out swiftly, it will quickly reach the tipping point where it’s just more hassle to travel than it is worth.
Find one influential voice
Tour operators and agents should seek to have a voice. ABTA would be the natural vehicle, there are good people there, but it must be reconstituted and re-organised so that it represents every member rather than only its biggest benefactors. It could be the catalyst for all trusts, yet its reluctance (to take on this role) underlines its position.