ITTN’s Neil Steedman asked Irish tour operators how they responded to Minister of Transport Shane Ross’s announcement about cash refunds and IATA’s Chief Executive’s open letter to the trade about airlines withholding ticket refunds in the BSP.
The Minister’s full statement can be viewed at: www.ittn.ie/news/ministers-statement-on-support-for-travel-sector/, while Alexandre de Juniac’s open letter can be read here: www.ittn.ie/news/iata-ceo-writes-open-letter-to-travel-agents/.
On Monday 6th April, Minister for Transport Shane Ross announced that he had “instructed his department to finalise proposals that will help to alleviate the financial pressures that are now impacting on the travel sector in Ireland, affecting Irish licenced travel agents and tour operators” and said: “This is an urgent matter that requires a speedy response.”
Ten days later, that response is still awaited – and tour operators are not impressed. When asked by when it should be delivered, one said: “Yesterday! Italy, France and Belgium already made a decision in favour of vouchers a month ago.” Another wearily replied: “Typically we find down through the years that ‘speedy’ in the private sector is completely different to ‘speedy’ in the public sector. The response should have been here by now. If our response to the crisis was the public sector’s ‘speedy’ we would be out of business by now.” A third was (perhaps!) more optimistic: “I think we would all like to have had an answer by now. However, I do understand and appreciate that any amendment to the Regulation needs to stand up to a legal challenge. I am hoping this is the reason for the delay and that it has not been put to one side.”
Vouchers and Credit Notes
ITTN also asked how their business would be affected by a solution involving vouchers or some form of credit note. One replied: “The use of a voucher or credit note for clients is a better solution than what is currently in place and will give our business breathing space.” Another said: “This is the solution we advocate. We have already started issuing vouchers valid until 2022 to all our clients travelling in March/April/May without exception. We cannot give refunds.” A third added: “Credit notes covered under the bond may have its merits. However, we still need to be able to deliver cash refunds. This is really only possible when the airlines start refunding.”
Asked if they recommend a different solution, one tour operator said: “To the voucher/credit note scheme I would add that reasonable administration/ service fees be allowed to be deducted by the agent. The clients have had excellent and caring service from our team,” while another voiced what many are thinking: “Enforce EU261 with the airlines and get the refunds moving! Agree to cover the credit notes in the event of a collapse. We can then give a choice to our customers to either take the credit note or a refund.”
Tour Operators Respond to IATA CEO’s Statement
Asked what they thought about IATA Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac’s open letter and how they might reply to him, one said: “This is only propping up the airlines who are breaking the law. There are many airlines who are giving refunds and abiding by the EU261 rule. It is unfair to be treating the airlines differently,” while another asserted: “At face value, it sounds reasonable but I am sceptical of IATA and their willingness to embrace the travel agents.”
One reply to Mr de Juniac read: “Laws right or wrong were introduced to protect the consumer. IATA have no right to change it or water it down to suit those airlines who are not enacting EU261. It is time that airlines were bonded. We have been calling for this for a long time now and it has always been resisted.”
Another wrote: “Mr de Juniac, while your request to the regulators is reasonable you need to ensure the travel agent is included in the scheme, i.e. the agent would not have to assume responsibility to refund cash while taking payment from airlines via vouchers. I would also call on you to ensure that the travel agent would be treated fairly and not in the way that they are treated by most airlines when it comes to the likes of ADMs, etc. In general, it is not a good experience. In light of this, I would have no confidence that the full value of the voucher or credit note could be used if it is to be administered by BSP.”