The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) has recommended tourism and travel companies across the supply chain to work together to ensure consumer protection and confidence to mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and accelerate the sector’s post-pandemic recovery.

The UNWTO report – released earlier this month in conjunction with several global travel and tourism associations – was developed to support governments, the private sector and the international community in navigating the unparalleled social and economic emergency of COVID-19.

It recommends that all the above tourism stakeholders work with the private sector to promote fair arrangements for consumers.

“These can include the rescheduling of cancelled holidays and flight tickets and ensuring consumers are fully protected. Where possible, alternative mechanisms for settling consumer disputes should be used so as to keep lawsuits to a minimum,” reads the report.

The authors of the report add that suppliers should consider providing vouchers for cancelled bookings, valid until the end of 2020, to boost demand and support consumers.

This follows an earlier article by Tourism Update that quoted Juliane Loubser, MD of Cape Town-based DMC, Fairfield Tours, as saying that if local tourism suppliers were not flexible with cancellation policies and fees amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they could potentially destroy long-term relationships with global tour operators and DMCs and lose future business.

Her suggestion was widely supported by DMCs, overseas tour operators and even some suppliers, with well-known California-based tourism consultant, Ronald S. Mracký, highlighting that a supplier will immediately feel the impact of saying “no” to an independent front-line travel agent or operator.

“That information is shared very quickly, and passed along with the names of those incoming operators, lodges, hotels, and airlines who apply their established cancellation, postponement or name-change policies during this crisis period,” he pointed out.

Mracky urged the various organisations within the public and private sectors to urge their members and constituents to refrain from applying their existing provisions, and review that policy with a view to their own and South Africa’s tourism future. “This is coming from our side in North America – one of SA’s biggest tourism markets,” he said.  

MD of Wow Cape Town Tours, Rushdi Harper, told Tourism Update that it was unfortunate that some suppliers did not see the big picture. “We are all in this together, so we should all feel the pain.” He added that he had refunded tours and/or postponed them to a much later date.

Full refunds not the answer

Yet, some readers have responded that full refunds across the board are not the solution either.

“Just think about what it would do to small players at the end of the supply chain. It would be carnage. With zero revenue to be expected for months to come, how can small properties and transport companies be asked to pay back all the deposits? One cannot simply assume that their cost base immediately went down to zero,” wrote Angela Matthews from Alpha Destinations in response to the article.
Her solution is to ask suppliers to extend the deadline for postponements, beyond the 12-month mark. “Let’s ask them to allow us to make itineraries transferable. Let’s engage with all stakeholders on every possible level and find solutions that will limit the damage to the industry.”