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    CMA warns Teletext holidays it faces court over unpaid refunds

    The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has warned Truly Holdings, the company that operates Teletext Holidays, it could face legal action over its failure to repay customers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    In May, the government body secured undertakings from the company committing it to address failures to refund package holiday customers for cancelled holidays.
    A similar document was signed by sister company, the travel operator Alpharooms.com.
    These undertakings required Truly Holdings to use all reasonable endeavours to pay outstanding refunds to passengers at the latest by the end of August, and going forward to ensure that refunds due for package holidays cancelled after the date of the undertakings are paid promptly and no later than 14-days after cancellation.
    After a review, the CMA said it was concerned that some customers whose package holidays were cancelled since it signed up to the undertakings have not been repaid within the 14-days required by the law. ADVERTISEMENTAlthough Truly Holdings has paid back a significant number of customers within this two-week period, too many have been left waiting longer for the refunds due to them.
    The CMA is also concerned that Truly Holdings has not done enough to repay customers who were already owed refunds at the time the undertakings were given.
    As a result of the action, Truly Holdings has paid £7.2 million of the £7.8 million owed to package holiday customers, but almost £600,000 in refunds remains outstanding.
    Truly Holdings has reported that the outstanding amount is owed to customers whose current bank details it does not have and whom it has been unable to refund through their original payment method because the purchases were made more than a year ago.
    The CMA said it does not consider that enough has been done to ensure that Truly Holdings is able to provide refunds to package holiday customers with outstanding claims.
    In addition, the CMA does not consider that Truly Holdings has done enough to make sure that it pays all refunds that may in future become due within 14 days, as required by law.
    The CMA has therefore written to notify Truly Holdings that it will take court action unless the firm takes immediate steps to rectify the situation and to ensure that, in the future, customers who are entitled to a refund are repaid in the timeframe specified by law.
    Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “It is unacceptable that some package holiday customers are still not receiving refunds within the timeframe that they are legally entitled to.
    “While we are pleased that many consumers have now received the refunds they were due because of our intervention, we are clear that Truly Holdings must comply with the law.
    “Unless it urgently takes steps to address the failures we have identified, we will take court action.”
    Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, called for the CMA to do more.
    He explained: “We have received countless complaints from Teletext Holidays customers who have been battling for refunds for cancelled holidays.
    “It’s hugely concerning that Teletext has not yet paid all outstanding refunds to its customers and it’s still failing to comply with the 14-day period required by law.
    “We welcome the action taken by the regulator to enforce consumers’ rights.
    “Teletext is one of many holiday providers that has attempted to shirk its legal responsibilities to refund customers for cancelled trips, highlighting the need for industry-wide reform.
    “The government must ensure there are better protections for holidaymakers’ money, while the Competition & Markets Authority must be given stronger powers to take action against companies which break consumer law – including the ability to impose fines if necessary.”

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    WTTC urges tourism investment to boost recovery

    The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has launched a new report that provides investment recommendations for governments and destinations, as they aim to rebuild and grow their tourism sectors.
    With the pandemic bringing international travel to an almost complete halt, the global sector suffered more than any other due to severe mobility restrictions.
    The sector’s contribution to global GDP fell from nearly US$9.2 trillion in 2019, to just US$4.7 trillion in 2020, representing a loss of almost US$ 4.5 trillion.
    Furthermore, as the pandemic ripped through the heart of the sector, a shocking 62 million tourism jobs were lost while many still remain at risk.
    The report reveals that capital investment dropped by almost one third last year, plummeting from US$986 billion in 2019, to just US$693 billion in 2020 and now, as the market head towards recovery, investment in tourism has never been so critical.ADVERTISEMENTThis paper demonstrates how crucial it is for both destinations and governments to attract investment through an effective enabling environment, including incentives such as smart taxation, travel facilitation policies, diversification, integration of health and hygiene, effective communication and a skilled and trained workforce.
    The report also offers key recommendations for governments and destinations and highlights those segments which could be most attractive to investors.
    According to the report, governments and destinations should invest and attract investment from the private sector in areas such as physical and digital infrastructure, as well as in travel segments such as wellness, medical, MICE, sustainable, adventure, cultural or targeted – including women, LGBTQI, and accessible – tourism.
    Julia Simpson, WTTC chief executive, said: “WTTC data has laid bare the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the tourism sector.
    “It is crucial for stakeholders to focus on travel facilitation to achieve a safe and seamless traveller journey, and diversification of revenue-generating activities, among other opportunities.
    “As this sector heads towards recovery, it is essential to understand the priorities to drive public and private investment in order to rebuild the economy and unlock the full potential of the tourism sector.”

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    Baldwins Travel takeover deal secures future

    A multi-million-pound takeover of Baldwins Travel by business group Inc & Co has been completed.
    The new company says the deal secures the travel agency’s high-street presence across Sussex and Kent.
    Established over 120 years ago, the Tunbridge Wells-headquartered company currently employs more than 50 staff across eight branches, all of which will be protected under the move to the new owner.
    The acquisition of the business – established in 1895 – follows a challenging year for travel, but its new owners say the investment will allow it to navigate its way out of the difficulties presented to the sector during the pandemic.
    Originally a bookbinder and stationer that started selling rail tickets, Baldwins grew to become one of the largest travel operators across the south coast.ADVERTISEMENTIt currently has a high street presence across Tunbridge Wells, Cranbrook, Lewes, Maidstone, Sevenoaks, Tenterden, Tonbridge and Uckfield.
    Jack Mason, group chief executive of Inc & Co, said: “We’re really excited to announce Inc & Co’s acquisition of Baldwins Travel, and we’ll be warmly welcoming the brand into our growing portfolio of businesses.
    “Although it’s been a difficult year for the wider sector, we’re delighted to be in a position to secure the futures of Baldwins’ employees and branches across Kent and Sussex.
    “Since our founding in 2019, we’ve grown the number of businesses we oversee and our employee headcount, from just five to 750 across 15 brands.
    “We’re really excited to bring Baldwins’ established brand heritage and the expertise of its long-serving staff into the Inc & Co family.”
    Through the deal, Inc & Co will take on any existing payments due, tour operators will receive all monies owing and all customers will be refunded any outstanding payments.
    Chris and Nick Marks – former Baldwins owners – will continue to remain within the business.

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    ABTA calls on government to overhaul travel regulations

    ABTA is seeking to keep up pressure on the government to put the “right framework” in place to get people travelling again, kickstart a recovery in the travel industry and provide urgent financial support.
    The moves come as officials prepare to release the latest strategic review of international travel requirements, which is due by the end of the month.
    Using the findings from its latest member survey on the impact of the pandemic, ABTA has written to the chancellor and transport secretary to highlight the devastating impact the travel requirements have had on the ability of the industry to trade this summer.
    The association is calling for a significant overhaul of the traffic light system so travel businesses can trade their way out of this crisis, and also emphasising the ongoing need for tailored financial support.
    ABTA is encouraging its members and the wider industry to get involved in lobbying and communications efforts to help drive home the essential changes needed to save jobs and businesses within the industry.ADVERTISEMENTGraeme Buck, director of communications at ABTA, said: “We must use our collective influence to get the government to use the strategic review to reopen more destinations and get more people travelling again.
    “To help us exert pressure and hammer home the essential changes needed at the review, we are calling on our members and all parts of the travel industry to join our ‘Twitterstorm’ at 14:00 today and write to their MPs this week about the challenges facing the industry.
    “There are also new assets available to share on social media to spread the message even further.”
    Calls from ABTA echo those of Heathrow earlier this week, with both calling for a scrapping of the current traffic light travel system.

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    SPAA calls for return to travel as organisation reaches milestone

    The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) celebrated 100 years since its founding with the message that the “fear factor” around international travel must stop.
    In front of an audience of 200 travel professionals at the Crowne Plaza in Glasgow, SPAA president, Joanne Dooey, appealed to the Scottish and UK governments to support a return to international travel.
    Dooey said: “We need to see a return to international flying.
    “The fear factor driven by people in power now needs to stop.
    “We need to get Scotland back to business with safety protocols in place which are simple, and more importantly do not cost a fortune, to allow our industry to get back to some normality. ADVERTISEMENT“We need to remove complexity and bring in simplicity with clear consistent communication and processes to support travel and not to hinder it or prevent it.”
    It is widely accepted that the travel sector has been the worst hit industry by the pandemic, with passenger numbers falling to below ten per cent of previous years.
    However, this statistic hides the true financial picture for the outbound travel sector.
    With travel agents not receiving any income until the customer actually travels, agents were faced with refunding bookings made pre pandemic meaning that, once credit card refund charges are considered, agents have had negative income – and little tailored support – since autumn 2019.
    The SPAA has been lobbying for Scots being demonising for going on holiday to cease, and for the Scottish government to get behind an industry which supports 26,000 jobs in Scotland and brings £1.5 billion to the economy annually.
    Joanne added: “We need to trust in the vaccine and allow freedom of movement.”
    The SPAA has continued, throughout the pandemic, to lobby for sectoral support for travel agents who have tirelessly worked to keep their customers travelling and their businesses afloat.
    The SPAA centenary dinner was originally scheduled for February.
    It is the oldest organisation representing travel agents in the world and currently has 120 member companies.

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    ABTA waves farewell to de Vial after more than a decade

    ABTA has confirmed that John de Vial will be leaving the association at the end of September.
    de Vial has spent 12 years at travel agent body, largely as director of membership and financial protection.ADVERTISEMENTHe moved to a role overseeing the strategic plan for the organisation earlier this year, with Rachel Johnson taking on his former position.
    ABTA chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “In the twelve years since he joined the ABTA team, John has overseen the running of an effective membership and financial protection operation that has dealt with significant company failures, and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    “His management responsibilities have now been effectively transferred to a new generation of leaders, and he leaves a legacy operation that is respected and resilient.
    “We wish John well in his future endeavours.”

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    On the Beach returns to market with free testing offer

    On the Beach, which sat out the summer season, has confirmed holidays are now back on sale.
    As it returns, the beach holiday retailer has confirmed it will offer customers free Covid-19 tests for new bookings made before the end of the month.
    In May, the travel company made the decision to stop selling holidays during the peak summer season, as uncertainty and confusion around international leisure travel grew.
    The merits of the decision remain questionable, with millions of Brits having enjoyed a summer break this year, and the company is now seeking to rebuild its position in the market.
    All bookings to Spain, Greece and Cyprus will be eligible for the new testing offer.ADVERTISEMENTTo fund the activity, the travel company has created a £1.5 million fund dedicated to helping rebuild consumer confidence in travel as part of its commitment to supporting the long-term and sustained return of tourism. 
    Customers’ tests will be ordered automatically following their holiday booking and delivered a minimum of 48 hours prior to departure, with one antigen test to be taken on holiday prior to return to the UK and one PCR test to be carried out on or before day two following arrival in the UK.
    On the Beach has partnered with leading travel testing provider Collinson, which is UKAS-approved, to send test kits via tracked delivery.
    Initially the free tests will be available for those residing in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for bookings made in September for departures in 2021.
    Simon Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach, said: “We are thrilled to launch this industry-leading offer for our customers and remove the financial burden of PCR testing for holidaymakers as they get to grips with the new normal of holidaying.
    “Having carefully monitored the ongoing travel updates, the data at home and in our key destinations, and the sentiment among our customers, we feel that the time is now right to welcome them back to the beach.”

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    UKHospitality warns vaccine passports could damage industry

    Vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has confirmed vaccine passports will be required to enter nightclubs and other indoor venues in England by the end of this month.
    Zahawi said it was the right time to start the scheme for sites with large crowds as all over-18s will have been offered two jabs by then.
    Asking people to show certificates with Covid-19 vaccination proof has been criticised by venues and some MPs.
    Zahawi said it would ensure the economy could remain open.
    Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, he explained: “The best way we can keep those industries open in my view, in our view, is to work with the industry.ADVERTISEMENT“One thing that we have learnt is that in large gatherings of people, especially indoors, the virus tends to spike and spread.”However, the plans have met with concern in the industry.
    Commenting on reports, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “A scheme introducing mandatory Covid-19 passports for certain venues and events will be unworkable, cause conflict between staff and customers and will force business to deal with complex equality rules.
    “Operators may even be forced into a position where they have to let unvaccinated staff go, at a time when there are record levels of staff shortages across the industry.”
    She added: “The hospitality sector has invested heavily to ensure customers are safe and we have proved venues are Covid-19 secure.
    “Introducing a scheme such as this will be a hammer blow to businesses such as nightclubs that were closed by the government for nearly 18 months, and have only recently been able to trade viably and make progress toward rebuilding and paying off accrued debts.
    “Over the past year our sector has been devastated and businesses have only known forced closure or the most severe restrictions.
    “This policy will be devastating for businesses that remain fragile and will certainly derail recovery and cost thousands of jobs.”

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