Take the compo or hold out for holidays? Day of reckoning looms for getaways deferred due to Covid
Many consumers who had holidays booked from March agreed to delay them for a year instead of getting refunds – rebooking for the same time in 2021 - however ongoing lockdown restrictions mean it it unlikely that many people will be able to travel during the spring.
The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) last year clarified that people who had booked package holidays and self catering breaks which were cancelled as a result of the pandemic were entitled to a refund.
Consumer watchdog Which? said travellers have “effectively propped up the industry” through deferring holidays or taking vouchers, but warned many will now, a year, later, want a refund.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said: “When thousands of holidays were cancelled last spring, many people understandably thought that their travel plans would be free to go ahead if they rebooked for the same time a year later. But that year has nearly passed, and it is clear many of these holidays will still not be able to go ahead.
“Travellers have effectively propped up the industry over this time, either through rebooking or accepting refund credit notes to use on a future holiday. But 12 months on, many will now just want their money back.
He added: “Holiday companies cannot put customers through the same hassle we saw with refunds last spring for a second time. Refunds must be processed for those who want them without delay, and the government must heed calls for tailored support for the travel industry, which has had little income for the past year and will now have to refund millions more to customers.”
Under current lockdown rules, travel to Scotland is prohibited without a valid reason, while Scots must stay within their own council areas and overnight stays are against the rules. Even if restrictions are eased and Scotland returns to a levels system, that is likely to mean that some parts of the country will still not be permitted to travel. Nicola Sturgeon suggested yesterday that it could be the summer before the tourist industry is opened fully.
However, the industry warned that customers demanding refunds would decimate the industry, which has had little income for the past year.
The Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework Business Fund provides grants for businesses required to close by law as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, usually totalling £2,000 every four weeks. Larger properties, which are particularly hard hit as groups of different households have been unable to travel together for much of the pandemic, are able to apply for one off grant support of £2,000 under the Large Self-Catering Grant fund.
Fiona Campbell, chief executive of The Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers, said many owners of self catering cottages were considering closing their businesses.
She said: “We are going to have to go through another round of moving bookings to next year, or refunding people.
“It is not sustainable. We can’t be used as insurers of last resort.”
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, called for tourists to postpone holidays – rather than cancelling them - where possible to support the industry.
He said: “We are all about wanting to be as responsible as possible, maintaining relationships with customers and doing the right thing. If people can afford to be without the money in their pockets, they may want something to look forward to so may be happy to postpone their trips. However, others may feel they cannot commit to travel at a future date and they will be looking for a refund.”
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “It is an uncertain time for the whole of Scottish tourism and with restrictions still in place questions remain on what the coming season will look like. As has been seen throughout this entire pandemic, the situation is ever-changing and communication is incredibly important in these circumstances, ensuring visitors are fully informed to make travel decisions based on the latest advice. We will continue to update our industry and consumer websites to ensure both businesses and visitors have access to the most recent travel information.
"Additionally, we would urge pre-booked visitors to monitor Scottish Government guidance and keep in touch with their accommodation provider before making any journey. If restrictions affect bookings, we would encourage businesses to work with those customers to postpone any trips rather than cancelling them, however we know this is not always suitable.”
‘The costs are still there, but the income is decimated’
Anne-Marie Main owns a one bedroom cottage in the Highlands, the Old Salmon Bothy in Portnahonck.
She said: “We haven’t had any cancellations yet, but it is going to get to the end of February when people start thinking about whether they are going to be able to travel – and it may be that they can’t. Our policy is to say to people that if they can’t travel due to restrictions, we will refund them. It means that we have no income, but we think it’s more important to preserve the business. We have a lot of repeat customers and it creates a feeling of goodwill. It’s very difficult, as I still have things I have to pay for: security, broadband and so on. The costs are still there, but the income is decimated.”
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