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Agents pull out the stops to get customers home


Juliet Dennis and Harry Kemble


Travel agents have been working around the clock to get clients home in what many described as the most challenging period of their careers. Agents said they were having to


prioritise overseas clients and those due to depart in the next week while they worked through bookings. Fred Olsen Travel head of com-


mercial Paul Hardwick said: “We are trying to get through four trays: people going abroad next week, in April, in May and ones already overseas.” The agency had 150 bookings


affected in total as a result of decisions by cruise lines such as P&O Cruises to suspend sailings. So far, 100 had been rebooked, he added. C The World owner Carolyn Park


called the situation a “nightmare” of a kind the trade had “never experienced”. The three-branch agency called in a team of staff on Sunday to get 40 customers home. She said: “It’s the first time we’ve dealt with anything on this scale.


WAS PUT ON HOLD...


THE WEEK THAT TRAVEL


It is about helping


customers but also survival. It is so overwhelming. Every day is getting tougher


“As a business, it’s ‘chin up’ and


get on with it. The biggest challenge is getting people home. Once that’s done we’ll work through bookings.” Haslemere Travel owner Gemma


Antrobus said: “We’re asking clients to be patient while we deal with imminent bookings. The difficult situations are where airlines will not refund money.” Worldwide Cruises UK sales


manager Jordan Brewer said the focus was on the “immediate future” and getting 40 clients home. “Everyone came in over the weekend and is working extra hours where possible.” Tour operators’ emergency plans


also swung into action. Paul Carter, chief executive of Hotelplan, said: “Everyone worked round the clock on significant repatriation efforts to


Wednesday, March 11 O


O O


get both customers and staff home safely. Today [Tuesday] saw an incredible logistical achievement to evacuate 600 seasonal staff, before the shutters came down in France.” Village Travel in Cheam, Surrey,


said it was proving hard to persuade elderly clients to rebook. Joint owner Jennie Watson said: “Some don’t know if they will be able to travel next year.” She admitted she was concerned


about having to pay back commissions on cancelled bookings, but said she was “trying to be positive” and “determined not to let the business go”. Antrobus said: “We cannot


survive on small margins and having to give commissions back.” The Advantage Travel Partnership


is calling every member and putting out daily messages, including videos from chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said. She said: “We are helping with


enquiries and contingency planning. It is about helping customers but also survival. It is so overwhelming. Every


day is getting tougher.” i Round-table, page 6 i Coronavirus news, page 8


Deserted: Heathrow on Tuesday


Julia Lo Bue-Said fronts a video message to Advantage members


Thursday, March 12 O


Coronavirus outbreak declared a pandemic


easyJet cancels all flights to Italy


EU suspends ‘lose-it-or- lose-it’ rules on airport take-off and landing slots


O


Operators and cruise lines continue to roll out flexible amendment and cancellation policies en masse as they bid to keep hold of bookings (pages 14-15)


Princess Cruises suspends all sailings, Virgin Voyages follows suit


O Clia postpones 2020 agent conference O


Hays Travel launches ‘Peace of Mind’ guarantee and offers staff unpaid leave O Boris Johnson tells over-70s not to cruise


Friday, March 13 O


More cruise lines suspend sailings: Viking, Saga, AmaWaterways, Uniworld and Avalon, followed by Scenic, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and the brands of Royal Caribbean Cruises and NCL Holdings O Tui freezes pre-payments and suspends contracts with some hotels O Disney and Universal close theme parks


O


Tour operators begin to suspend programmes, with Trafalgar, Cosmos and Contiki among the first


O Ski resorts in Austria and Andorra closed O BA communicates ‘survival’ measures to staff (page 47) O FCO warns against travel to parts of Spain, including capital Madrid


4


19 MARCH 2020


travelweekly.co.uk


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