December 9, 2023

TMCs warn travel disruption could last until summer 2023

TMC staffing numbers are almost back to 2019 levels but service is still being impacted by disruption and the greater complexity of travel.

Sharing figures at Monday’s ITM Autumn Conference in London, BTA CEO Clive Wratten said the association’s member TMCs now collectively employ 12,000 people, compared to 14,000 in March 2020. Staff numbers had dipped dramatically to 7,000 in January 2021 due to the pandemic.

Wratten said air revenues are now back to 80% of 2019 levels and passenger numbers to 70%.

But today one in four bookings are changed or cancelled – some of them multiple times – compared to just one in 11 bookings in 2019.

Speaking on a panel, Katherine Gershon, MD at Wexas Travel Management, said although TMCs are working hard to improve their service levels, they are struggling to cope with strikes and other outside factors, such as the Heathrow Airport passenger cap.

She warned that the disruption is likely to continue into next summer with rumours that the Heathrow cap might be in place until March 2023.

“The disruption is a headache for all of us,” she sad. “We all want to get back to the time where the person who made the change is the client, not the supplier.”

Pat McDonagh, CEO at Clarity Travel Management, said the switch from online to offline bookings is hitting service levels. “That’s quite profound,” he said. 

He said there has been a shift in patience, with clients now putting increased pressure on their TMC partners.

“As time goes on, patience does erode and that’s natural,” he said. “What we’ve had to do is to talk with out clients to show progress. If you don’t show progress, there’s a problem. We’re not quite where we want to be but we’re getting closer.”

In a later session at the one-day conference, buyers said it was important to communicate with travellers the reasons why their travel might be affected.

They said it’s important to fine tune your message because travellers might be fed up with issues being blamed on Covid or Brexit.