Local travel agents and tour operators have hit back at Consumerline claims that they are treating consumers unfairly. NI Travel News Editor Kirsty Johnston reached out to the local travel industry to find out what is really going on…
Local travel agents and tour operators have blasted Trading Standards for placing “further pressure on a retail travel sector that is on its knees”.
The Department for the Economy’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) has written to a number of travel agents in Northern Ireland advising them to pay refunds for cancelled holidays. However local agents have said they feel “frustrated” that they have become a “forgotten industry”.
One of the complaints Consumerline said it has received is regarding customers having “difficulty in contacting the tour operator or booking provider”.
The reason why some customers may be having difficulty contacting their agents is simple, most are on furlough. And the small number who are being retained by the agencies are dealing with an extremely high call volume due to the ever-changing list of countries where people can travel to, without having to quarantine.
Just yesterday (August 13) it was announced that a further six countries would now be removed from the quarantine-free travel list, and travellers returning from these destinations would now be required to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival back in Northern Ireland. Travel agents, who are still desperately trying to deal with the fallout from Mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands being suddenly removed from the list, now have a further six destinations and even more consumers to help.
Another complaint Consumerline said it had received from unhappy customers is “long delays in obtaining a refund” while some passengers are being told “that due to the higher value of their flight tickets, they will have to wait longer for a refund”.
The main reason for the delay is simple, as Trevor Ardies from Rosetta Travel puts it, it’s a “logjam in the supply chain”. No one is exerting pressure on the airlines to refund to the travel agents, and if the airlines don’t refund to the travel agent then the travel agent cannot pass anything on to the customer – a point that seems to be completely overlooked in a lot of statements at the moment.
“The main reason for a delay in getting a small number of refunds to customers is the inaction of official bodies who can and should be exerting pressure on the airlines to refund,” Trevor said. “That is the logjam in the supply chain, not the agent.
“The airlines continue to deliberately obstruct and delay cash refunds and appear to be above the law.”
Some current statements regarding refunds are not only very misleading to consumers, but are also highly detrimental to the travel agents who are already struggling to cope.
As Peter McMinn of Travel Solutions puts it: “It is extremely disappointing that Trading Standards has decided now to place further pressure on a retail travel sector that is on its knees.
“For the past five months Northern Ireland agents have been working tirelessly in situations never experienced before and perhaps, rather than put more jobs at risk, the Government and their agencies should be offering further assistance to an industry probably worse affected by the current COVID situation.”
Hazel Simpson of Limavady Travel agrees, saying that she feels “frustrated” that the travel industry has been “forgotten”.
She said: “Travel Agents seem to be the forgotten industry, we have been without income for five months and during this time we have given back the income we had received prior to lockdown.
“I feel frustrated that no one is highlighting or even aware of the income we earn between April and September is what we rely on to pay the bills and staff wages from October to March.”
Damien Doherty, Chief Inspector for the Trading Standards Service, said that although they “appreciate the difficulties at this time faced by all these businesses… consumers’ rights under the Package Travel Regulations 2018 have not changed during the Coronavirus pandemic.”
Consumerline/Trading Standards have been contacted for further comment on the above.