Travel agents say they will feel more comfortable explaining to customers why they don’t use certain tour operators after the Covid-19 crisis.

Suppliers have given varying levels of support through the crisis, said a Travel Weekly webcast panel, noting that smaller trade-friendly operators will be remembered positively while some larger companies may lose third party sales as a result of poor communication.

Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haslemere Travel, said “we’ll all learn valuable lessons out of this”.

She said: “Rarely do clients want to come in and book a certain tour operator’s holiday, they usually leave it to our judgement, but there are some who say ‘can you book us an X-holiday’. If it’s [a supplier] that is on our blacklist, I’ll be using this experience to explain to them that if they want to book them they’ll have to do it themselves. Beforehand we probably sugar-coated it a little bit and try and switch-sell them to someone else in a subtle way but now I would have no hesitation in saying why I wouldn’t use a company.”

Antrobus, chairman of Aito Agents, said she rarely books operators “outside of the Aito family”, and said those in the group had been “phenomenal” in terms of support through Covid-19.

“They know what you’re up against, they’re up against it as well,” she said. “But where you have larger suppliers, they haven’t empowered their staff with the knowledge so those people can’t provide you with a helpful alternative or an answer. Being told ‘we’ll get back to you on email within two weeks’ isn’t sufficient. We understand not everyone can bring back their full teams from furlough, but when you’ve got that lack of empathy or understanding is just not right. There are a lot of companies out there that will learn a big lesson from this.”

Asked if she had changed which suppliers she was working with, Kate Harris of Inspired Travel said “without a doubt”.

She added: “We all have tour operators that we go to, that we’re comfortable with or have contacts with [but] some of them don’t get the travel agent’s job. There will be some of them I won’t touch with a barge pole.”

Harris singled-out P&O Cruises for its call centre hold times being “nothing short of disgusting” and said it was “rude, let alone poor customer service” that they had taken so long to reply to emails.

The Travel Snob’s David Walker said: “I’m telling my customers that I’m booking with these guys because if anything should happen this is what we can do. It’s a conversation you never really had before but I’m doing that and when people come in asking if I can match a quote I just say, ‘no, I’m not even going to attempt to match it. I’m going to be more expensive, this is why’.”

He said the approach worked with his customers for a booking “based on the security and the not knowing.”