The chief executive of Travel Counsellors has called for respect for the travel industry and the way it has handled the profound impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the sector.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly Webcast, chief executive Steve Byrne said: “You’ve got to give some time and respect to what the industry has done over the course of the past few weeks.

“I know there’s been some really negative – and in some cases justifiably negative – headlines, but up and down the country, thousands of travel business and individual people working in travel businesses have been struggling with the profound impact of it.”

He said travel had been hit as hard as any sector.

“This has had the biggest impact in terms of business on the travel sector, probably more than any other sector and will last longer than probably than any other sector,” he said.

“And while we’ve been doing that, we’ve also had a massive peak in workload, because you’re dealing with cancellations and amendments.”

Byrne said travel businesses had not been able to take full advantage of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, as other sectors had done.

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“You want to take advantage of the furlough scheme to avoid redundancies and mitigate your costs, and because you’ve got no income coming in, but there’s no point coming out of this if you don’t have any customers. You want to be able to retain your customer goodwill,” said Byrne.

“We’ve been very careful in terms of how we’ve approached furlough to try and protect the people who would have been – and are – involved in supporting the bookings that are being amended.

“We’ve had a core crisis team that we’ve actually expanded beyond the people who would normally be involved in those things; we’ve seconded people in from other departments to make sure that we support the travel counsellors with bookings affected.”

Despite these efforts, Byrne said the sheer volume of cancelled holidays to refund or rebook had meant it had not been a quick process.

“The volume of it has been so huge that inevitably it’s taken some time to work it through, but I think we’re getting there,” he added.

“Travel agents up and down the country are absolutely passionate about doing the right thing by their customers. They have spent years and years worrying about doing the right thing by the customers.

“If they don’t have those customers booking with them, then they lose that income. So you have got to respect the commitment they have made to doing that and that they are doing their absolute best.”