One of the UK’s largest online travel agents has stopped selling summer holidays, saying there is too much uncertainty around Covid-19 to take bookings with any confidence.
The company, On the Beach, said that until further notice it would not be selling any breaks for June, July or August this year, though customers who already had holidays booked could go ahead.
The agent, which specialises in sea and sand holidays in destinations including Spain and Greece, said the coronavirus traffic light system unveiled by the government did not offer any certainty beyond a three-week window.
Simon Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach, said: “There’s nothing we want more than to be able to send customers on holiday, but with the current number of unknowns we don’t think that now is the right time for customers to book new holidays departing in the next few months.”
Cooper said there were likely to be “regular fluctuations in destinations’ traffic-light classifications”, which meant a likelihood of disruption or even cancellations for customers who wanted to book more than three weeks in advance.
“Given this, there is too much uncertainty for us to take new bookings with confidence that they will go ahead, or for us to know the potential inconvenience or incremental costs that customers might experience or incur,” he said. “We have taken the decision to stop selling holidays for this summer until customers have greater clarity and can make more informed booking decisions.”
The government announcement last week concerning “green list” countries – those that can be visited without the need for quarantine on return – led to a flurry of interest in holidays in the selected areas, which included Portugal and Iceland.
However Emma Coulthurst, from the holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket, said there were no signs of other operators altering summer schedules. “There are lots of holidays on sale – we haven’t seen any evidence of withdrawal of product,” she said.
But she said there was lack of clarity for customers over the difference between the green list, from the Department for Transport, and the Foreign Office’s list of countries where non-essential travel was now allowed.
The move by On the Beach came as the UK’s competition regulator reminded the holiday industry that it had to inform travellers of their refund rights when trips were cancelled, and forced Tui, Europe’s largest travel company, to make it clearer that customers could get their cash back.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Thursday said it had written to 100 package tour companies reminding them of the need to offer refunds for cancelled holidays and to pay back customers within a fortnight.
The travel industry has been among the worst-hit sectors during the coronavirus pandemic, with international movement still heavily restricted even from those countries, including the UK, which have forged ahead with vaccination programmes.
The regulator has been concerned by travel firms’ repeated failures to inform customers of the right to cash refunds if they are forced to cancel bookings. Since March 2020 the CMA has received more than 23,000 complaints from consumers about refund issues, it said.
Tui, an Anglo-German travel company that was a member of the FTSE 100 until the start of the pandemic, formally pledged to provide clearer information on refund rights after the CMA intervened.
The CMA had previously forced Lastminute.com, LoveHolidays, Teletext Holidays and Virgin Holidays to pay out refunds to customers rather than just offer credit notes.
Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said: “We want to make sure people are fully aware of their refund rights, so they can make informed choices about booking a holiday. We’ve secured millions in refunds for people who couldn’t go on their hard-earned trips over the past year and now we’re calling on package holiday companies to make the refund process less hassle in the future.
“We expect all firms to give clear cancellation options and will consider appropriate steps if we see companies breaking the law by refusing or delaying refunds this summer.”