Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operator, has extended the cancellation of its holidays until mid-June in another blow to the travel industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.
All trips until and including 11 June will be cancelled due to the coronavirus, with the company warning customers who want a cash refund to be patient as phone lines are “extremely busy”.
Before Wednesday, only trips up until 11 May had been suspended.
The firm’s cruise operations, Marella Cruises, have been suspended until the end of June, and it has postponed the launch of its new river cruise programme until late November.
A spokeswoman for the operator said almost 900,000 people have now had their holidays cancelled.
Affected customers have been told they will get a full credit for the full value of their trip, which can be used to book another holiday that takes place before the end of October 2021.
They will also receive additional credit, worth up to 20% of their booking.
Those who are “unable to accept” a refund credit can apply for a cash refund, but warned that its call centre staff are “incredibly busy” so waiting times are “considerably longer than usual”.
Simon Cooper, founder and chief executive of rival travel agency On The Beach, said last week that failing to pay cash refunds to those customers is a “bad idea” as it will likely mean struggling companies will have to “massively increase” their prices for next year to avoid bankruptcy.
UK laws state that full refunds should be given within 14 days for cancelled package holidays.
But consumer group Which? has found that none of the UK’s 10 biggest holiday companies or airlines have been offering those refunds within the legal time frame – with some refusing to provide refunds altogether.
Many travel companies are seeing huge financial losses due to the sudden collapse in demand because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential international travel since 17 March.
Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said Tui “must ensure it is making the refund process as straightforward as possible”.
He added: “The travel industry is under unprecedented strain, and the lack of action from the government on measures to support operators to process refunds is unacceptable.”