Trade associations and consortia should increase consumer messaging to advise of added complexities in travel and showcase the need to use an expert travel advisor, agency owners have said.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Alistair McLean, owner of Dorking Travel, said: “Our ‘governing bodies’ – Abta, Advantage, the Travel Trust Association, need to get in front of the consumer to say ‘travel now is completely and utterly wrapped up in terms and conditions.
“The people you should be going to because they are experts, are your local travel agents. If you book it online, and you don’t read everything, then buyer beware. Sorting through all this confusion is where we come in. And I hope that we will embrace the opportunity.”
McLean said it was going to be challenging for all agents because all aspects of travel had become so much more complex.
Amanda Matthews, joint managing director of Designer Travel, said: “When you’re booking any holiday now, you have to go into the Foreign Office website. You’ve got to source that information for every single destination. We’re having to do individual check sheets for every single client traveling, because every destination is different.
“We’re a high-touch travel agent so it’s ok. But if people are going online, and they’ve already got short memories to save 50 quid, they might find that 50 quid might be the best 50 quid they’ve ever spent because it may well be the difference between going on holiday or being stuck at the airport because nobody’s told them what they’ve got to do.”
Matthews added: “Of course, we’re expecting this information to change by the minute as it did when we were closing down. It’s going to be the same when it’s all opening up, so it’s an absolute process nightmare. And it means that travel agents, even with not many customers traveling in the summer, are going to have to bring resources back and it’s going to cost them money when they are trying to save.”
McLean agreed, saying: “We’re going to have to bring more people in to do the admin. But I hope then that a consumer will actually value the travel agent for what we do, the advice that we give, and the mechanism that we provide in order for them to actually travel.”
Miles Morgan, chairman of Miles Morgan Travel, agreed it would be extra work and costly but added that the biggest concern was “making sure we get it right”.
“It’s not easy to get it right because when you look at the FCO advice, it isn’t crystal clear and you do need to delve to another level of detail,” he said.
“I’ve got 80-odd staff that have got to be absolutely on it in terms of the Ts & Cs, and all these different countries to make sure we get it right. And so they [the government] are just not making it easy. I understand it’s a challenging environment. But I have to say there has to be a simpler way than the way they’ve got it at the moment.”
Matthews said she was confident ‘high-touch’ independent agents would get it right but was concerned that some OTAs would produce negative headlines.
“As an industry, we’re going to really have to get our act together and even the online big volume guys are going to have to find a way or can you imagine the bad press?” she said. “People will get to airports and won’t be able to board the plane. The consumer media have already done the most amazing job of making this whole thing so much worse anyway, but if something like that happens, they’re just going to jump all over it.
“And then we all get tarred with the same brush, which is not fair, given that we’re all investing so much time, effort, energy, and real passion and love for our clients to make sure that they are safe, informed and can then have an enjoyable holiday.”
Morgan added: “You can almost predict the headline when some poor family in late July are pictured leaving an airport with their bags in their hands, saying ‘Family Refused Dream Holiday’. It’s coming – most definitely.”
He said he expects information to change constantly over the course of the summer, and is also worried about larger agents.
“It’s highly likely that the bigger players will just have a tick box that says, ‘I fully understand I’m responsible for getting all the adequate paperwork to get into the country’, and that’s it.
“But I think this does favour us because hopefully people will understand the value of a good travel agent. It’s only when times are tough and things go wrong that people really do appreciate the value of an agent. And it’s a hard message to sell, the fact that when there’s a problem, we’ll help you out, but in essence, this is now is our opportunity, and I think people will understand,” he said.
“Let’s be honest, this isn’t going to just go on for this summer, it’s going to go on for a lot longer than this. And so it’s an ongoing opportunity for us. And perhaps, maybe, there’s a hope that we might be seen in the same eyes as a solicitor or a legal person where you are worth that bit of money and people see the value.
“I think a lot of people in the past have thought ‘We can do it ourselves. We don’t need those guys. What do they know that we don’t know?’ But you know, I think those times might change.”
Matthews added: “We’ve got to show that we are real professionals and show that we’re worth that. This is our time to shine, but we don’t want to be let down by the others that don’t shine.”
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