“Unacceptably slow” and “difficult” refund processes on trips cancelled due to COVID-19 have caused many Australians to have “lost trust” in the travel industry, according to CHOICE.
The consumer advocacy group released a scathing report calling on the state and federal governments to implement stricter laws around travel refunds, an industry ombudsman and an ACCC market study, among other things.
In the report, CHOICE revealed that fewer than one in five survey respondents said they had received a full refund after their trip was cancelled.
Fifty-three per cent said they waited more than three months for a refund, credit or other resolution, 25 per cent said they only received a credit or voucher, and 90 per cent said the laws need to be changed to make it easier to get a refund.
“Even with the fallout from the pandemic, our survey indicates that many players in the travel industry – who provide flights, accommodation, car hire, cruises and other services – have been unacceptably slow to respond to customers’ efforts to get their money back, if they responded at all,” the report said.
“There are several variables at play, but our survey results deliver a clear message: many Australians have simply lost trust in the travel industry.”
CHOICE said travel providers have been “passing the buck” when it comes to providing compensation for cancelled trips.
“Trying to sort out travel cancellations and refunds has often involved punishingly long waiting times on the phone and a wearying game of pass the buck: airlines, accommodation providers and other travel businesses tell customers to take it up with their travel agent or third-party booking site, who then send customers back to where they started,” the report said.
The report also claimed that many travel providers “appear not to have honoured their own Ts and Cs, or even updated them after the fact in some cases.”
Despite this, Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) chair Tom Manwaring said consumer confidence in and reliance on travel agents remains strong, if not boosted by the support they have provided during this time.
“Many of our member agents have reported a surge in customers who had initially made their bookings direct with suppliers and who have then turned to their local agent to help manage their bookings,” he said.
“This commitment to supporting consumers is demonstrated in the tireless work of Australia’s travel agents in chasing and securing an estimated $7 billion worth of credits and refunds for COVID-impacted travel from airlines, hotels, tour operators and other suppliers on behalf of their customers.”
“There’s no doubt that consumer confidence has been dented by the ramifications of COVID restrictions including snap border closures and travel bans and any measures that can restore confidence levels are definitely worth exploring.”
Featured image source: iStock/Image Source