By Ben Ireland in Ibiza

Tui’s UK boss has confirmed the travel giant will reopen all of its retail travel agencies despite the Covid-19 pandemic triggering the introduction of a “whole new process” of working from home.

The firm, which has more than 500 travel agencies on the high street and in shopping centres across the UK, will have 100 open from Monday – 80 opened this week.

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It is initially opening the larger stores, which UK managing director Andrew Flintham said was down to being able to implement social distancing measures more easily.

Speaking to Travel Weekly in Ibiza on a media trip ahead of the restart of the company’s tour operation this weekend, he said: “In three months we have built a whole process and system that has allowed us to homework properly.”

He explained that while the first 100 shops open, 750 additional retail staff will continue to work from home. Work will be divided so that those in store can focus on new holiday bookings and customers who insist on coming into store, while those working at home will continue to process Tui’s backlog of refunds, which it is still working through after cancelling 1.5 million summer 2020 holidays as a result of the pandemic.

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Flintham added: “We can open the big stores first because we can easily create the space for customers to social distance. You can have every other desk open, and put Perspex screens between them.

“The idea is that we will reopen the whole network as we go forward.”

Flintham said he was rolling out a programme across the business that would allow Tui colleagues from retail and contact centres to pick up each other’s bookings – which he said the onset of the Covid pandemic had accelerated, adding: “We are the most flexible we’ve ever been.”

But he said another lesson learned during the pandemic was that a cross section of customers were so loyal to travel agents that they did not push for their refunds until they could visit the stores.

Part of the efficiencies Tui was rolling out involved giving all retail customers with cancelled holidays refund credit vouchers that allowed them to self-serve their refunds online – something they would not have previously been able to do if they had made a booking in-store.

“We’ve been proactive and started ringing customers to offer them their refunds,” Flintham explained. “We thought we would see everyone self-service their refunds but what we saw was that there was a large cross-section of the customer base that were so loyal to their travel agent that they said they’d rather just wait until the store was open again.”