The refunds row during the Covid-19 pandemic will be the ‘trigger’ for more sensible commercial relationships between low-cost airlines and online travel agents, distributors predict.

Europe’s largest budget carrier Ryanair has accused ‘unlicenced’ screen-scraper websites for blocking Covid-19 refunds by not passing on customer contact details.

It named lastminute.com, On The Beach, kiwi.com and Love Holidays among OTAs hampering its efforts to refund holidaymakers, and in July launched a customer verification process for customers booking through third-parties.

Speaking as part of Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week, Blue Bay Travel group chief executive Alistair Rowland – who is also Abta chairman – said the issue of OTAs screenscraping low-cost carriers’ websites had become a “real issue right now”.

He attributed this to problems caused in terms of issuing refunds for low cost flights booked through OTAs, adding: “They (OTAs) are screen scraping, processing within an Atol transaction and some of them are now not offering full refunds.”

As a result of the issue coming to a head this summer, he predicted a shift to new rules and “more sensible” commercial arrangements between low cost carriers and OTAs.

He said: “It will change the market. Probably what it will do is create sensible B2B transactions” around booking seats, amendments and cancellations, and predicted new rules relating to what happens when there is a change of Foreign and Commonwealth advice.

“For an OTA to have to choose customer detriment versus staying in business is really bad,” said Rowland. “I think this will be a trigger point to change the market. Going forward there will be a more sensible proactive commercial relationship between OTAs and low-cost airlines.”

Icelolly.com chief executive Richard Singer said the industry spat between Ryanair and OTAs was unhelpful in the current market. “It doesn’t do the industry any good,” he said.

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