EVENT SPONSORS NEWS travel distribution. Juliet Dennis reports

Rowland: Shops can survive by taking cautious approach


ricks-and-mortar travel agencies have a future provided they take a “more cautious” approach to trading in the current environment, according to Abta

chairman Alistair Rowland. Blue Bay Travel chief executive Rowland, who joined

from Midcounties Co-operative Travel this month, said personalisation and relationships were “king” in terms of gaining clients’ trust. But he warned that agents would struggle to run large,

high-rent shops in a climate of low booking volumes. Co-operative Travel shops had seen a rise in business

as soon as they reopened this summer because customers wanted to see agents, especially those with whom who they had built up relationships, said Rowland. But he said sensible

metrics governing rent levels, locations and


The refunds row during the pandemic will be the “trigger” for more-sensible commercial relationships between low-cost airlines and online travel agents, travel sellers predict. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget carrier, accused “unlicensed” screen-scraper

websites of blocking Covid-19 refunds by not passing on customer contact details. It cited, On the Beach, and Loveholidays. In July, it launched a customer verification process for customers booking through third parties. Blue Bay Travel group chief executive Alistair Rowland said the row would “change the market” and was likely to lead to the creation of “sensible B2B transactions” around booking seats, amendments and cancellations, and predicted new rules relating to what happens when there is a change of Foreign Office advice. “For an OTA to have to choose customer detriment

Richard Singer

versus staying in business is really bad,” said Rowland. “I think this will be a trigger point to change the market.” chief executive Richard Singer said the industry spat between Ryanair and OTAs was unhelpful in the current market. “It doesn’t do the industry any good,” he said.

Alistair Rowland

running costs – a strategy used by Midcounties over the past 20 years when it assessed new shop openings – needed to be in place for retailers to survive on the high street. He said: “Provided there is a cautious approach, then I think retail has a future. Primary sites, secondary towns, a cap on annual rent at £30k…those kind of metrics need to be in place.” Rowland compared the rent figure

with that of around £250,000 for a shop in a large shopping centre. “I don’t think there will be enough bookings to keep that cost base,”

he said. “It’s OK if you are vertically integrated and doing it for brand awareness. “A cautious approach

to retail will continue to win through, albeit in the short term.”

Hughes says ‘airlines need taking to task’ for holding back refunds money

The way the trade pays airlines should be changed, according to Travel Counsellors’ UK managing director. Kirsten Hughes said it was

unacceptable that airlines were often paid months ahead of passengers departing and yet during the lockdown they had taken months to refund customers. She said: “It was a challenge

getting money back from the airlines. When the major airlines put everyone at 12 weeks, if not 16 weeks, on [paying back] refunds, there was a lot of pressure. “Airlines need taking to task at

some point. The fact that they can take full payment 11 months before customers travel and then they take 24 SEPTEMBER 2020 11

months to refund is not acceptable.” But she admitted imminent

changes to airline payment terms were unlikely. “I don’t know how we are going

to address it because airlines need customer monies to travel. Unless the government steps in with something, I cannot see it [change] happening any time soon,” she said.

Kirsten Hughes

PICTURES: Steve Dunlop, Sarah Lucy Brown

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