The Covid-19 pandemic has been a ‘rollercoaster’ ride for the travel industry but has also acted as a catalyst for change and opportunity, say travel firms.

Speaking on a WTM Virtual 2020 conference panel, Tui UK commercial and business development director Richard Sofer said the company’s call centres had taken around one million calls a day from holidaymakers at the height of the Covid-19 crisis this summer.

Sofer said the pandemic had created a challenging environment for the travel industry.

He said: “It’s been challenging, it’s been tough. The team has had to work hard together. It’s stretched resources. It’s been a situation none of us expected to find ourselves in. We have found ourselves in scenarios that have hugely impacted us and constantly changed day to day. The decision you make on Monday you might need to reverse on Tuesday.”

He said it had taken the company “a number of weeks to get a grip of the severity of the situation” and said even as market leader the company had not expected the sheer volume of calls it then had to deal with as a result of the pandemic.

He said: “Being market leader in the UK we have a huge volume of customers. We were taking one million calls a day on some days in the call centres.

“We are a big business but we never expected to take that. We had to create processes almost overnight to be able to deal with those customer calls and deal with the uncertainty.”

He said the company had been forced to react faster and had been able to put on flights days after the decision was made to reopen the Canaries to travel, only for a travel ban to be put in place ten days later due to the UK’s second lockdown.

Elegant Resorts managing director Lisa Fitzell, speaking on the same panel, described the last eight months as a “rollercoaster” ride but said it had led to the operator introducing far more flexibility on bookings and its own price promise.

She said: “There have been some tough decisions and we have lost staff like everybody has. We have just really focused on our customers and our travel agents.”

Sales for the operator increased once lockdown restrictions were eased this summer leading to July sales revenues being higher than in July 2019, added Fitzell.

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said the situation for the trade during the pandemic had been “absolutely awful” but had also led to opportunities for travel agents to shine.

He said: “I have spent 14 years since setting up my business trying to educate customers about the opportunity to book through agents on the high street and all of a sudden this gave me the biggest opportunity to do that.

“At the end of this we want our businesses to be stronger. Some companies have not behaved particularly well. That means some consumers are looking at who to book their holiday with; that’s where the opportunity lies.”

He said the decision by some companies to “hibernate and hope” was a “surefire recipe for disaster”. “You still have to be proactive and be on the front foot to survive,” he added.