The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks earlier today to discuss a range of issues faced by the travel industry as a result of COVID-19 and related restrictions. Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association and Paul Hackett, ITAA Board member and CEO of Click&Go met with the Committee this morning, seeking better consumer protection and improved Government supports for Irish travel agents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ITAA delegation sought to highlight the impact of current restrictions on travel, stating that it is increasingly unlikely that international travel will resume in 2021, with the re-opening date for international travel further delayed until early 2022. Travel agents are prevented from trading under current public health guidelines; however the industry is in the unique position that it must stay open to assist clients with refunds and to reschedule bookings.
The Association are asking for tailored business supports for the travel industry in response to the unusual and unique position they are in, in order to protect the travel industry and facilitate a smooth and safe return to business when international travel can finally resume. Currently, travel agents are in receipt of the EWSS, and are entitled to CRSS from Level 4 which the ITAA feel is inadequate as it fails to address the unique issues faced by the Irish travel industry. CRSS does not support the downturn in business caused by Government restrictions on International Travel but instead is directly linked to the levels in the COVID framework; however travel agents are prevented from trading, irrespective of the levels and have been since March 2020.
The ITAA are also seeking protection for customers with regards to flight refunds, as many consumers are being refused refunds on the basis that their flights went ahead contrary to Government advice on non-essential travel. These “ghost flights” have been an issue since the beginning of the pandemic, and affect both consumers and travel agents alike when it comes to refunds. Consumer protection is a top priority for all Irish travel agents, therefore the ITAA would like the Government to take further action on this matter on behalf of consumers.
ITAA CEO Pat Dawson stated, “There are a number of issues affecting our industry as a direct result of COVID-19, so we were pleased to present to the Joint Oireachtas Committee to outline our concerns for our customer and member travel agents. Irish travel agents are responsible and always put the safety and comfort of our consumers first, however if international travel is to come to an indefinite halt, business supports are urgently required to ensure that we can reopen once again when the threat of COVID-19 has passed. We need a bespoke response with specific supports as a consequence of being closed for over a year on public health grounds linked to international travel. We hope that the Committee has taken our submissions on board and that this will lead to increased supports for our members and customers.”
He continued, “Our industry is in an unusual situation in which we have been forced to cease trading for an indefinite period of time due to the outbreak of COVID-19, yet we still have to pay rents and salaries and remain open in order to provide day-to-day assistance to our customers. We are working hard on behalf of our member travel agents to highlight the issues faced by our industry and come to an agreement on supports for Irish travel agents.”