Agents have urged operators to bring staff back off furlough to end long wait times to service bookings.

Retailers said they had regularly been on hold for hours to speak to operator staff, with demand having increased since the government’s announcement of its ‘Covid travel list’ last week.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has allowed employees to be brought back part-time on a weekly basis since July 1.

Inspired Travel owner Kate Harris, who said she spent five hours on hold to one operator, said the waits were causing agents huge stress and making her reassess which operators she used.

She said: “I am sick to the back teeth of being told by operators ‘it is unprecedented times’. Who is paying the bill while I’m holding on to speak to someone for two or three hours?”

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews said: “A lot of suppliers need to now resource-up. Sending an email and waiting four hours for a response is not acceptable. Waiting on the phone for an hour is not acceptable.”

She added: “We’re always saying ‘use an agent’. Now, we’re made to look unprofessional and like we’re taking hours to do things when actually we have our hands tied.”

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said waiting for two hours on the phone, on a premium rate number, to speak to a supplier had become “the norm”.

“This is happening for thousands of agents,” he said. “It’s twice as bad or more than normal.”

He urged suppliers to “invest a little in their future”, adding: “Many of my staff are frustrated that so many suppliers are not open on Saturday.”

Dorking Travel owner Alistair McLean warned bookings would be lost if operators did not take heed.

“We have an opportunity to take travel forward but if [suppliers] don’t have the staff it will all fall by the wayside,” he said.

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