Ensure your customers know you’re doing your best for them amid the coronavirus crisis, says The Travel Snob, David Walker a homeworker for Not Just Travel based in Nottingham

The last few weeks have been some of the hardest we’ve ever faced as travel agents.

As well as cancellations, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with queries from passengers travelling as far in advance as March 2021, and those who want help getting out of countries (including Yemen).

I’ve prioritised customers with no flights home but it’s impossible to get anyone back on connecting flights from Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, which means there’s little I can do for clients in Australia and New Zealand.

Thankfully, one family in Oz are with relatives (in her words: ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m in the pool most days getting drunk with my sister’). But those on touring holidays have nowhere to go with everywhere closing down.

Stay in contact

We can’t get them back, but we can give them information. I’m letting clients know I’m here, even though flights are suspended. If I stopped contacting them, they’d worry.

This means staying on top of advice from governments the world over, not just in the UK. I have a family in New Zealand whose car hire was cancelled, so I found local taxi companies. It’s about making them think ‘thank God I’ve got David’. I want them to be safe and realise the value of an agent.

“We’ve been looking at how we can link people up if they’re stranded in the same destination, so they don’t feel isolated.”

I’ve another customer who was due to be in an amazing hotel in the Bay of Islands, but is now in an apartment by the airport waiting to get home. He likes his wine, so I ordered him a bottle of red, only to be told there were very few courier firms available; now, sadly, it’s set to arrive the day after he leaves.

I’ve contacted other travel consultants with clients overseas and we’ve got a WhatsApp group to share ideas and examples of what we’ve done. We’ve been looking at how we can link people up if they’re stranded in the same destination, so they don’t feel isolated.

Explain to customers

Customers with cancelled holidays need reassurance too. I’ve been inundated with calls asking about August trips. What do we say?

Financial protection is crucial. Abta’s credit note guidance could save many travel companies, but explaining this to clients is difficult.

The words you never want to hear customers say are “you told me…”. I fear I’m going to soon, when someone says they were told they’d get a refund if anything went wrong.

“I told my LA customer that Aer Lingus gave him two days to rebook. So I made the airline put a note on his booking to say he could change again without charge.”

Try telling my paramedic client, who is looking after coronavirus patients and can’t plan annual leave until September, to rebook by the end of June. And what about my customer whose LA conference has been cancelled? He doesn’t holiday in the US, so what use is a credit note with American Airlines that can only take him to the US when he usually books European city breaks?

And we’re dealing with this while few bookings are coming in – I’ve made four in two weeks. All you can do is let your customers know you’re doing your best. I told my LA customer that Aer Lingus gave him two days to rebook. So I made the airline put a note on his booking to say he could change again without charge. His response? “David, much appreciated. This is why I book with you. Stay safe.”


Villa-portugal

Operators, please be flexible with credit notes

How do we explain to customers who have paid deposits for trips that are unlikely to go ahead that they should cough up the balance to get their money back?

My 12-lady hen party booked for Croatia don’t want to hear that. Many of them have families to feed. And how about telling my customer who has booked four weeks in a luxury villa in Portugal she needs to pay the £26,000 balance to stand a chance of getting her £10,000 deposit back if the holiday doesn’t go ahead?

“Some clients have good reason not to be able to pick a new date now, so all I ask is that tour operators take each one on a case-by-case basis.”

Most customers will rebook, but if credit notes could be more flexible, it would help. I’ve tried to rebook every customer to salvage bookings for the operators, as well as for me. Some clients have good reason not to be able to pick a new date now, so all I ask is that tour operators take each one on a case-by-case basis.