Thursday, 5 November 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Travel Trade Sector
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I seek an update on the unique and dire situation of travel agencies. The companies are operating at a loss of about 130% in refunding all revenue for a year and a half, pretty much without Government assistance. Moreover, with 3,500 staff throughout the country, the sector is by no means insignificant.The Irish Travel Agents Association has continuously voiced its concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on travel agencies and has called for the Government to provide assistance to repair some of the damage done to the Irish travel industry.
I have spoken to representatives of my local travel agencies. Anyone from north County Louth will be familiar with Centre Travel, KT Travel, McGuill Travel and O'Callaghan Travel. These businesses combined have been in operation for 180 years, employ 30 staff and have an annual turnover of more than €16 million, so they are by no means small fry. These are small enterprises that give excellent personalised customer service. They were thriving viable businesses but they now see no light. They still give an excellent service with negative return. To give an example, one of these travel agents has had only five bookings since September. This week, it will issue 75 cheques in refunds to its customers. As we know, there are costs associated with refunds and staff are needed to do this work. Other outgoings include cumulative bank charges, office charges, rent and heat. One travel agent has estimated that it takes up to nine hours for each refund to be organised with all the administrative hurdles, telephone calls, emails, etc. All money is going out. Travel agents are not normal retail outlets.
Let us remember that travel agents only make money when customers board a flight and the plane takes off. As we know, some flights are taking off but the Government advice is that people should not travel so people are not travelling. In such instances, under EU law, travel agents are obliged to refund the cost of flights whereas airlines are not obliged to do so. Five travel agencies have gone into liquidation. Under EU law, customers are refunded. Must the Government or the Commission for Aviation Regulation now provide refunds?
Travel agents are seeking clarity on whether they are eligible for the Covid restrictions support scheme. Is the scheme based on turnover or profits?
The refund credit note is of no practical assistance to travel agencies as it only protects customers if a travel agent goes into liquidation. A refund credit note does not help travel agents to keep their business running and only protects customers. It is important that customers are protected but these businesses still need a refund.
I stress that the travel agents that I have spoken to respect and understand the restrictions but they need help to ensure their businesses still exist when the restrictions are lifted.