Jet2holidays and easyJet Holidays are among some of the first UK tour operators to sign up for BBC Watchdog’s ‘Package Holiday Pledge’. However, the commitments put forward by BBC Watchdog are already in line with standard industry practice. Therefore, the pledge offers nothing unique to the UK package holiday industry, only a platform for travel agencies and tour operators to participate in a glorified PR opportunity. As a result, it may reflect poorly on regulatory bodies such as ABTA and Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing (ATOL) due to a perceived lack of control of the industry.

Initiatives need to be led by industry authorities – not prime time television

There is no question that the initiative put forward by BBC Watchdog is beneficial for consumers. Ultimately, it educates consumers on their purchasing rights, which is essential, given the layers of complexity in modern-day travel. However, the movement should be led by industry leaders, not a primetime television program.

Consumer confidence is more important than ever since the pandemic. According to GlobalData’s UK COVID-19 Recovery survey* 46% of respondents were either ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ concerned with the prospect of international travel, reflecting the public’s scepticism. It appears that industry leaders have failed to ensure consumers feel adequately protected when they are booking international trips. It is now a cause for greater concern when an investigative journalism program such as BBC Watchdog is involved. These programs have a large national platform and can make or break a company’s reputation, putting companies who have not signed up to the pledge at an unfair disadvantage.

Due to the far-reaching appeal of BBC Watchdog, many consumers will feel this is a unique action, forcing the hand of travel agencies and tour operators to act responsibly towards its customers. Within Watchdog’s ‘package holiday pledge’ commitments, it mentions free amendments and cancellations to flights or holidays affected by COVID-19 and refunds processed within 14-days. However, the Package Holiday and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 regulations already provide legal protection for consumers. Essentially, this suggests there are two severe problems in the industry. Firstly, tour operators and travel agencies are not doing enough to inform customers on their rights before booking. Secondly, and most importantly, regulatory bodies are not doing enough to ensure tour operators and agencies notify customers on their rights before booking. Herein lies the problem – industry authorities look weak, and this does not provide a good outlook for consumer and traveller confidence moving forwards.

The travel regulatory bodies should opt to take a more public stance on the matter, whether through television interviews or advertising. This type of promotion will alleviate some of the anxiety regarding package holiday booking. Tour Operators and travel agencies can further support this sentiment via its advisory service and advertising, creating a consistent message. A proactive approach like this will avoid third parties like BBC Watchdog influencing the industry and consumer behaviour.

Signatories benefit in the short term but could set themselves up for future failure

For Jet2holidays, easyJet Holidays and many others who have signed up to the scheme, it is excellent PR for the short term. However, during these difficult times, companies that have signed up to the BBC Watchdog ‘Package Holiday Pledge’ may be setting themselves up for failure by putting their services under the public microscope. Ultimately, BBC Watchdog is an entertainment program where hard-hitting journalism and compelling stories come first. With such a heavy focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, the first sniff of an unpaid or delayed refund may be drawn out on national television, damaging the reputation many agencies like Jet2Holidays have worked so hard to keep during the pandemic.

*GlobalData UK Recovery Survey Week 11 undertaken 2-6 December 2020

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