A leading travel agent has threatened to name, shame and take legal action against tour operators that are still not refunding four months after Covid-19 shut down international travel.

Tony Mann, managing director of Idle Travel in Bradford, said enough time had now passed for operators to make other arrangements to ensure they paid agents back, and said the government needed to clamp down on those that still weren’t complying.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, he said: “I’ve got plenty of battles to fight now I’m back in the office and I’ve got more things at my disposal, so tour operators that have not refunded my customers their money…watch out, because I’m coming for you and I want it back.”

He added: “The money needs to come back, whether it’s airlines or tour operators and I will name and shame them and if we have to take legal action with them, I will as well.

“At the beginning, it was difficult for everybody. We didn’t know what was going on and we didn’t know it was going to last. But I see the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) have started to flex their muscles so it’s about time the government did the same. The government needs to start pressing, and actually get on top of what these companies should do legally.”

Mann explained how he had taken on his first ever debt, in the form of a government bounce back loan, to refund his customers out of his own pocket.

‘We’re nothing without customers’

“We’ve done that because my customer is king and we’re nothing without our customers,” he said.

But he added that tour operators should have taken similar measures to make sure they could pass the money onto agents, even if they hadn’t been paid back by airlines. And he also said he had no idea if the tour operators withholding money were telling the truth.

“We’re four months down the line and some of these companies do have the money,” he said. “Some tour operators are telling me, ‘Oh, we’ve not been refunded yet’, but how do I know that?

“I understand they couldn’t do 14 days, but we’re four months down the line, so they should have other things in place.”

Mann said it was time for government to intervene and “sort these people out” to “get the cog wheeling again” down “the whole chain”. He added: “Let’s get people’s money back in their pocket so they can spend again.”

Cruise Nation boss Phil Evans urged national mainstream media to write stories explaining to customers that there’s a chain in which a their money is held, to make it clear the public doesn’t think travel agents are the ones withholding money.

Travel agents tarnished

“I’ve been quite frustrated by the bad press around refunds to customers, because the travel agent has been tarnished by that as customers think we’re trying to cheat people out of money,” he said. “They do not understand that we’re part of a chain and that it takes an amount of time to get that money down the line. The national press needs to better educate the customers that we’re not denying anybody any refunds and that this is a pandemic situation and things are taking time.”

Evans said his business was facing a raft of chargebacks via credit cards from customers who couldn’t get refunds – and are now leaving negative reviews.

“We’re working around the clock to actually get this money back to customers but they don’t realise and that is my real frustration,” he said.

Sue Alexander, managing director at Eagle Travel added: “The media probably doesn’t help. Some of the reports in Which? magazine, etc, haven’t helped, but I think they’re coming around now and trying to explain that actually, the travel agent is in the middle here; not holding onto people’s money.”