And so it began on October 21 that Westjet delighted countless numbers of folks when they announced that after 7 months of their position of No Refunds -Credit Vouchers Only, refunds would be forthcoming.
And while this public relations announcement sat well with out-of-pocket passengers, the good folks at Westjet only revealed this to the travel trade a day later which left many of us in the lurch when it came to answering a flood of questions from travelers.
Their notification to the trade indicated that details as to how to proceed would be made available on Nov.2nd and furthermore said refunds would take somewhere between 6 and 9 months to process.
And although I reference Westjet seeing as they were the most recent and most publicly visible participant in this merry-go-round of confusion, a similar scenario unfolded with numerous other travel suppliers.
Now before we deal further with this matter, I’d like to share a little insider information with you as to the inner workings of the Travel Industry.
Sit back, buckle up and grab a box of popcorn and a package of Kleenex.
Grocery stores sell their products – employees get paid.
Automotive dealers sell cars – their sales people get paid.
Real Estate brokers sell homes – they receive their commission.
Airlines sell tickets – their staff get pad.
Doctors see patients – they get paid.
Which is pretty much the way commerce works.
Covid-19 however seems to have introduced a slight “twist” to the travel agency community.
In the months of say May, June, July, Aug ,Sept. etc etc in the year 2019, travel agencies wiled away their time advising, assembling and securing a variety of getaways for their cherished clientele.
Some 6 months later when final payments for planned trips were made by the travelers, agencies were paid their commissions by the supplier of the product in question.
In turn the agencies used that revenue to cover a few incidental items such as rents, salaries, power bills, insurances and taxes.
On occasion, as any small business can attest to – there’s a little left over that column 12 logs as profit.
I say – “a little” given that a $2900 package vacation for 2 to a Mexican resort will generate approximately $161 in commission to an agency.
Not exactly the kind of gross margins that has agency owners rushing over to their Mercedes dealers with.
Nonetheless by the time March rolled around, agencies had made a living, paid their bills, and were now focused on booking Summer/Fall journeys.
On March 13th our industry along with so many others, ground to a spectacular screeching halt.
In the months that were to follow pretty much every agency worked around the clock to cancel, amend, re-book, consult and provide updated information not only for those passengers whose planned trips were about to be scrubbed, but also for many who were stranded thousands of miles from home.
For the most part on a completely unpaid basis.
After all, we had a responsibility to our long time clientele and well………… this would all be over and done with in a couple of months and we’d all be ready to travel again.
Our industry’s Mid-Summer Night’s Dream quickly turned into a nightmare when after months of having to deal with some pretty angry folks who were being denied either a refund or an insurance claim and instead being awarded future travel credits, providers suddenly relented in the face of public outcries and began offering refunds.
And then immediately notified the travel agency community that revenues earned for work performed a year ago were being recalled.
I checked with a couple of other industries.
None of Safeway, Save-On, Sobeys or Superstore after having a particular product shorted or cancelled by the supplier went back to recall their employees’ paychecks.
Realtors I checked with could not recall a situation where their transactional commissions were recalled after a buyer had taken possession of an abode.
Car dealers couldn’t put their finger on a case where a defective vehicle has been recalled by the factory and a subsequent claw-back of the sales professional’s commission had taken place.
Airlines – although admittedly taking a significant hit and subsequently furloughing staff – have yet to go back and recall staff salaries for work performed a year ago on the grounds that this year’s flight was cancelled.
And out of respect for the duress our medical professionals are under these days, I opted not to poll them although I seriously doubt that their salaries/reimbursements are being recalled on the grounds that although Johnny scored high marks on his last physical, he’s no longer with us as a result of a fatal car accident.
A staggering number of agencies across the country have packed it in.
More will follow.
And the logic is simple – it’s one thing to work months on end as an ombudsman for no pay – it’s another matter all together to perform the task and have to pay an airline or a tour operator out of your pocket for the privilege of doing so.
No business in their right mind wants to do that ad infinitum.
I’m grateful that being “right of mind” is not necessarily a proper description of who I am.
*Memo To Ottawa*
When sitting around the campfire discussing a package to ensure the survival of our airline industry ( and yes-we know you are) you need to include the protection of agencies in the same way that “wink wink nudge nudge” you did with passengers’ monies.
The airlines may very well be the torso of the transportation body – but the travel agency community represents the arms and legs of the industry.
And a healthy torso’s not likely to go very far without functioning arms and legs.
Adios until next time.