South African lodges’ reluctance to pay back deposits should COVID-19 compel agents to cancel their clients’ trips, is a greater deterrent to booking travel out of Europe than the fear of getting infected with the virus or being forced into quarantine.
This is the view of Jos van Bommel, owner of Van Bommel Safaris, a Netherlands-based agent, specialising in the safari market.
Speaking to Tourism Update, Van Bommel said most lodges would not pay back deposits should COVID-19 prevent travellers from taking their holidays. Moreover, he says most lodges require full payment 30 to 60 days ahead of guests’ arrival, which is also non-refundable, or only a portion is refundable.
However, as an agent, he is compelled by European law to refund his clients in full if he is unable to deliver a service. This means that if closed borders or any other government mandate prevents his guests from taking their trip, he has to refund his clients in full, regardless of whether or not he is refunded by suppliers.
He says this has cost him close to €15 000 (R293 140) over the last four months.
While he has encouraged his clients to postpone instead of cancel, the choice is ultimately theirs and he has to refund guests who choose to cancel.
Van Bommel says while some lodges have suggested that there is no need for them to change their terms because travel insurances will become more flexible when it comes to COVID-19, a number of travel insurances now include clauses specifically excluding cover for pandemics.
As a result, he says it is not possible to book safaris until accommodation providers stop demanding non-refundable deposits and full payment 30 to 60 days ahead of guests’ arrival.
Bearing in mind that lodges do have fixed costs and communities rely on these properties for income, Van Bommel says greater transparency when it comes to invoicing will encourage travellers to forgo a portion of their deposit, but he stresses that it has to remain the decision of the traveller.
For example, he suggests that invoices should make clear what portion of the fee is used to cover salaries. In this case, he suggests that many travellers would be happy to forgo that part of their deposit knowing that the money forfeited would be used to support the employees, especially those in the community surrounding the lodge.