Tui has admitted shortcomings in how it has dealt with cancellations and refunds during the Covid-19 pandemic, but said it felt on balance it “did a good job in the circumstances”.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, commercial director Richard Sofer said the company had “held its hands up” over problems at the start of the lockdown, and had put a “huge amount of effort in to rectify the situation”.

“It’s fair to say it was unprecedented,” Sofer said. “The situation was moving quite quickly at the start and I think we’ve held our hands up and admitted, where we didn’t always get it right. My boss, Andrew [Flintham] sent a very sincere note to all our customers to explain that.

“But we’ve put a huge amount of effort in to rectify that situation and make sure that customers have got channels and opportunities to speak to the teams where they needed to. With the new webform that we’ve put up online,  they’ve got a mechanism that, hopefully, is pretty simple, and therefore we’ve been able to actually administer all of those refunds that the customers are asking for.”

Sofer said huge volumes of cancellations had been difficult to get on top of initially.

“To put it into context, throughout the two and a half months, we’ve seen about 1.5 million customers’ holidays have to be cancelled. So just huge, huge volumes that really could never have been foreseen. The added challenge of not being able to have the main offices open, and not having the retail stores open, has made it very, very difficult for our teams to be able to deal with those customer contacts,” he said.

“We’ve had to re-build systems and we’ve had to create new processes in that situation. Fortunately, we have a pretty good IT network so we’ve been able to have as many people as possible working from home to serve those customers and we’ve been increasing those numbers over time and clearly, as people can start to return to the stores, that will also help.”

Sofer continued: “I think on balance, we did a good job in the circumstances, given all the challenges that were being thrown at us and the size of the challenges that we were facing.”

Responding to criticism over how Tui conducted the refund process by consumer association Which? and MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis, Sofer said: “I think Which? were a bit unfair with some of their commentary to us. We’d been working with them, providing them some of the information, and it wasn’t maybe always portrayed in the way that I felt was fair.

“The feedback most recently from Martin Lewis on his programme has been very positive with regards how we’ve dealt with it, or at least how we’ve been able to rectify the situation.”

Sofer said that about 40% of customers have taken a Refund Credit Note to rebook a holiday at a future date.

“Clearly we’ve given customers an incentive [to do that]. We’ve given a very generous 20% top-up on what they’re paid, so about 40% of customers have used that to rebook their holiday and the balance have been processed for a refund,” he said.

And he denied any suggestion that Tui had deliberately made the process of getting a refund difficult and time-consuming.

“It certainly wasn’t purposeful to slow down the process,” he said. “We were dealing with such a huge weight of volume of calls, that arguably we never could have foreseen or projected that we would ever have needed to deal with. It was just really down to this the sheer volume but the teams have worked incredibly hard.

“They’ve managed to get through all of those early bookings, and customers are now within two to three weeks, are having their requests dealt with. So we’re now in a place where actually, the time that we’re able to deal with customers’ requests is really reasonable.

“It’s been challenging; it’s been really, really tough. I thank the customers for bearing with us through that, and we’re now past the worst of it.”