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Coronavirus Kent: Travel agents in Medway, Gravesham, Dartford and Tunbridge Wells respond to fears and give advice

Travel agents across the county say they're confident they will weather the economic storm being caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Holidaymakers have stalled on booking breaks as the situation continues to cause uncertainty and fear around the world.

Mystic India Sharon Evans
Mystic India Sharon Evans

But bosses at agencies contacted by KentOnline say they're optimistic the industry will bounce back once the crisis passes.

Sharon Evans is the owner of Rochester-based Mystic India

She said: "We specialise in tours in India across Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. We cover flights, hotels and give an overall VIP tour.

"I've been in the business for 37 years and I've run Mystic India for the last 11. Due to coronavirus, India has shut its doors to tourism and visitors, as a result we've been down in sales about 10% to 20%, but it's only been across the last three months so it's hard to tell.

"Our season doesn't really start until October so we haven't been massively affected but at the moment I'm just re-assuring customers, I'm waiting to see where things go.

Andrew Baker, director of Travel Vogue Ltd
Andrew Baker, director of Travel Vogue Ltd

"I hope our ladies only Golden Triangle tour will still go ahead in October but I think it's very sensible India has closed its doors.

"It's got such a large population so the results of the coronavirus could be devastating.

"I've seen this happen with the Gulf War, 9/11 and the Sri Lanka Easter attacks. But like we did before, we've just got to wait and hope the Coronavirus will pass."

Director of Travel Vogue Ltd in Meopham, Andrew Baker, said: "The coronavirus has affected the entire industry, especially tour operators. Luckily, the virus hitting now instead of the summer months of July and August has meant we haven't been affected massively.

"For us, it's something we can cope with but with the new restrictions for flying and entering countries, airlines are being heavily affected.

Chris Scoble of Go Scoble travel agents
Chris Scoble of Go Scoble travel agents

"For those who have had their holiday cancelled through us, we ensure we refund them. As a travel agent, we don't have insurances to cover this so what happens is, say somebody pays £1,000 for a holiday, £900 goes to the hotels and airlines etc and £100 goes to us.

"However, when a holiday is cancelled the £900 will be refunded but then it's up to us to find the remaining £100 from our own pocket. So in that aspect, it can affect our cashflow.

"If the coronavirus goes away in the next three months, people will still want to continue going on holiday, and it will all continue as normal.

"My advice is, if you're going to book a holiday then do it through a travel agent. If you book online and your holiday gets cancelled then you're at greater risk, you have to deal with fighting for a refund on your own.

"But if you have booked online you need to check when the rates become non-refundable."

Chris Scoble, of Go Scoble travel agents in Tunbridge Wells, said: "The coronavirus is probably the biggest impact the travel industry is ever going to see, we've gone from having slow inquiries to helping people understand the situation, where they stand with holidays they've already booked and inevitable cancellations, in particular of course from the banned countries, like Italy.

"We thought it would become quite big as with any type of big event which stops people from travelling, it's human mentality to get a bit worried.

But now it's moved on to virus catching and now the Italian situation, it's really had a massive impact for all travel agents and the travel industry.

"The Government website has given us daily updates with advice on banned countries and where not to travel. Once the location is on that list holiday goers will receive a full refund as long as the holiday was booked as Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) protected.

"Anything outside those announcements at the moment means you are still good to go. However, the ball is moving fast and I think other countries and other situations will follow the bans.

"We have a couple of customers in Sri Lanka at the moment, fortunately, they aren't stuck anywhere, I've dropped them a text to see how everything was, saying if they need any help that's where we are. That's what we do, we've also emailed and messaged our customers who are going away in the next two months advising them of where they stand."

Harden Holidays owner Tim Harden
Harden Holidays owner Tim Harden

Tim Harden, owner and manager of Harden Holidays in Dartford, said: "Over the course of the last two weeks there has been a decline in inquiries for holidays departing in the short-term, but the appetite for holidays has remained, we have seen a shift towards travel dates later in the year.

"So far we haven't lost any profit; there generally seems to be as much fear as optimism, some are greatly concerned about immediate travel plans while others are remaining excited about their summer holidays.

"The only amendments we have experienced, are all attributable to travel restrictions rather than fear.

"For people who are looking to book their holidays, my advice would be to make sure that they book with a reputable travel agent and one that offers financial protection and to also purchase travel insurance that provides a robust level of cover."

Jamie Revell, director at Revells Travel based in Headcorn, reports dropping consumer confidence in the face of the outbreak.

The firm has also seen suppliers begin to slash their prices, with deep discounts and upgrades being used to try to shore up demand for foreign travel. And although not universal, some businesses have been prepared to allow customers to reschedule planned trips.

Mr Revell said: "“The coronavirus has provided Revells Travel and the whole travel industry with an incredible challenge.

"We’ll continue to provide support to our customers by giving up to date Foreign Office advice and recommendations for changing and postponing holidays when are customers do not feel comfortable to travel. It’s at these turbulent times a travel agent really shows their value to their customers”

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