Nothing quite compares with the expectation of a forth- coming holiday.
Whether it’s a short UK getaway or a trip halfway across the world, the very thought of new surroundings and a changed routine — preferably under sunny skies — never fails to raise spirits.
Encouraged by glossy adverts, millions of us usually plan our summer holidays at the start of the year, and then it’s a case of getting through a few cold, showery months, in the knowledge that a deserved break is not so far away.
But all that has been stymied by the Covid-19 outbreak, and the world’s reaction to it. No one’s going anywhere.
The very thought of new surroundings and a changed routine never fails to raise spirits. But this year, no one’s going anywhere
Nearly 17,000 planes are sitting idle on runways across the world — that’s 64 per cent of all aircraft — while hotels, villas, holiday apartments, safari parks and all-inclusive beach resorts are shut, with no guarantee that they will open any time soon.
It is estimated that £7 billion has been spent by Britons on holidays they will now not be able to enjoy.
It’s a sorry situation — but one that most of us accept with good grace and understanding, as the death toll from coronavirus continues to rise across the globe.
What’s far harder to deal with — and what’s rightly giving rise to growing anger and frustration — is the way travel agents, tour operators and airlines are either refusing to give customers full refunds for paid-for holidays or making the process hideously stressful.
Nearly 17,000 planes are sitting idle on runways across the world — that’s 64 per cent of all aircraft
The law is on the side of the consumer, but in the coronavirus jungle that doesn’t seem to count for much. Certainly, holidaymakers aren’t feeling that we’re all in this together when they’ve shelled out money for trips which, through no fault of their own, have been cancelled.
Under the Package Travel Regulations (2018), anyone who has booked a package holiday which is then cancelled is due a full refund within 14 days. But, with a nod of approval from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), holidaymakers are being asked to accept Refund Credit Notes for future travel, or simply to book the same holiday at a different time.
As ABTA puts it: ‘In normal circumstances a refund should be paid within 14 days, but these are not normal circumstances and the 14-day rule is simply impossible for many companies to adhere to.’
Yes, but why should consumers have to pay the price?
ABTA has spent a lot of time lobbying the Government to change the regulations and yesterday called on the Chancellor to extend the Government’s salary support scheme for the travel industry.
Specifically, it wants a relaxation of the current furlough rules to allow travel staff to help tackle the backlog of requests from customers.
Such a move might make it easier to talk to someone rather than being held in an indefinite queue listening to canned music, but it’s unlikely to result in quicker refunds.
There are other options, but they can be just as perilous.
For example, you can take a travel company to the small claims court, where in theory it’s a relatively simple process, with a fee of £60 for claims up to £1,000 or £105 for up to £3,000. But do you really want the mind-numbing hassle and aggravation that this entails?
Alternatively, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you have used a credit card and spent more than £100 on your holiday you can contact your card provider for reimbursement.
But, displaying that familiar fat cat behaviour, many banks are reluctant to help, sending customers round in circles or saying that, because travel firms are offering credit notes, there has been no breach of contract.
Let’s not forget that these are the banks which were themselves bailed out by the Government following the 2008 financial crash, banks which like to put out emotive messages about how they are ‘with you every step of the way’, when often they are putting up barriers every step of the way.
No wonder the Competition and Markets Authority — which works to ensure that consumers get a fair deal — reports that four in every five current complaints are to do with travel refunds.
So, yes, the Government needs to act. Extending the 14-day refund rule makes sense — and is something that has been adopted across the EU as a temporary measure — but ministers seem determined to drag their feet, merely muttering platitudes about hoping to strike a balance between the plight of consumers and the future of travel companies.
It is estimated that £7 billion has been spent by Britons on holidays they will now not be able to enjoy
Underwriting credit notes is essential and would encourage more of us to rebook a holiday once travel restrictions have been lifted, because we would be guaranteed to get our money back even if the tour operator goes bust.
But with every day that passes and nothing happening, grievances pile up.
Assurances about credit notes might also mean banks would be happy to redeem them for cash as long as they know those notes have a government-guaranteed value.
Every sector likes to think of itself as special and the world of travel — which last year contributed 10.3 per cent of GDP around the globe and for nine successive years has been responsible for generating one in four of the world’s new jobs — is no different.
But ministers are in danger of letting the industry drift or, rather, crash-land with fatal consequences.
Every day brings more turmoil. Virgin Atlantic’s future is uncertain; British Airways this week warned that as many as 12,000 employees may be made redundant; and yesterday, Tui — the UK’s biggest travel company, with six million customers a year — announced that it is cancelling all beach holidays until June 11, and all cruises up to June 30.
What’s certain is that the way we travel is about to change dramatically — and we British are inveterate travellers. We always have been.
Tourists flock to the sunshine in Torrevieja, Spain, in 2018 but this year that might not be possible
Wherever you go in the world, we are there, seeking out — like Captain Cook in the 18th century or Scott and Shackleton in the 20th century — new frontiers or just sitting on a favourite beach with a dripping ice lolly.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) will today outline what the so-called ‘new normal’ will look like as countries begin to end their coronavirus lockdowns and ease travel restrictions.
It expects domestic tourism in Britain to restart in July and through August and September, followed by a pick-up of short-haul holidays to the rest of Europe from September, and then long haul from November.
‘Travellers should be tested at airports before they fly and upon their arrival, and can expect to wear face masks, observe practical social distancing on board aircraft and ensure strict cleansing regimes,’ according to the WTTC.
It doesn’t sound glamorous. Perhaps the old maxim coined by Robert Louis Stevenson about how to ‘travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’ won’t stand up to scrutiny for a year or so.
But we need to travel — and the Government, banks and travel companies must do everything in their power to make sure we can.