Currently, the number of charter flights is less than ten percent of those planned for this year. Compared to the previous year, the decline in the sector can be as high as 80 percent, the president of the Association of Hungarian Travel Agencies (MUISZ) told növekedés.hu. Judit Molnár also spoke about the current situation where travel agencies have to refund fees to passengers in spite of not having the money any more, as they had previously transferred it to actual service providers.
What does the dramatic downturn of the travel market mean for travel agencies?
Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the decline can be as high as 80 percent compared to the previous year.
Currently, there are nearly one thousand travel agencies in Hungary; about 8,000 people work in the sector; and the annual turnover last year was about 360 billion forints.
How did tour operators react to the crisis?
After the four months’ lockdown the government opened up the country on June 15. The agencies began to feel optimistic and charter flights to the Greek islands were launched in early July, although instead of the 80 previously planned flights for each week there are currently only 8 flights per week. When in the middle of July the countries were colour-coded as red, yellow and green, this made it impossible to launch further charter flights to such seaside resorts as Turkey, Egypt or Tunisia, which are popular among Hungarians. All that was left is individual bookings to European countries marked green, such as Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Italy or Croatia.
In your opinion, what percent of currently operating travel agencies are at risk?
We know already that the Hungarian representatives of Robinson Tours and Aeolus have closed down. Other travel agencies are trying to persevere and retain their staff.
How have prices changed in Hungary and in the most popular foreign markets?
The market has a price regulating role. In Hungary, it is the same as in every other country in Europe: governments are encouraging their citizens to stay at home. In light of this, it is understandable that prices of domestic services have risen in Hungary.
In contrast, travel prices to Greece, for example, are very reasonable.
Now you can travel to Greece for 150 thousand forints per person, which includes the cost of flight tickets, seven nights' accommodation, half board and airport transfer.
Is there a common central policy regarding refunds to passengers after cancellations or did the offices decide on their own?
The general terms and conditions of travel agencies are regulated by Government Decree 472/2017, which states that in the event that a trip is impossible, the travel agency must repay the amount paid by the passenger within 14 days. The problem is that this legislation was made in peacetime, when legislators did not foresee a pandemic and its consequences.
At present, travel agencies have to repay such fees to passengers that they do not possess, as they have previously transferred them to service providers: airlines, hotels, cruise ship companies, and these providers have not returned them to the agencies. This has put travel agencies in an unworthy situation, placing a disproportionate burden on them.
Have you tried to find a solution to this situation?
MUISZ has strongly lobbied the government to bring into force in Hungary what 12 other European countries have introduced, i.e. vouchers to be issued to passengers as compensation for unfulfilled services. Finally, on May 27 the new legislation was published in Hungary, with one difference, though, in comparison to other European countries: in Hungary passengers are not obliged to accept vouchers offered by the travel agency. So, in answer to the question, it is the legislation that determines how travel agencies can act.
Can passengers step back from a travel contract on the grounds that they are afraid to travel due to the pandemic?
Of course, passengers can step back from a travel contract, but if the destination country is in the yellow or green category, they have to pay forfeit money.
Have there been lawsuits regarding trips that were cancelled because of the epidemic and the emergency?
I’ve heard of a few cases, but not many. I think most passengers understand that this is an emergency for which nobody is to blame.
Was there any negotiation between travel agencies at international level regarding refunds?
MUISZ is a member of ECTTA (the Brussels-based umbrella organization of European travel agency associations), and we regularly have consultations with foreign colleagues on relevant issues.
How typical is it in your sector that an agency which has been primarily organizing foreign trips now starts to offer domestic destinations?
We are seeing that more and more agencies are now trying to offer domestic trips.
Many travel agencies use charter flights for their trips. What kind of difficulties do they have to face regarding these flights?
The difficulty is that planning has become uncertain in this situation.
Which destinations have been restored and which are expected to remain suspended until the end of the year?
There are two countries producing measurable numbers: Croatia and Greece.
In normal times, the largest number of Hungarian holidaymakers choose Croatia, Greece or Turkey for their holidays. People are still travelling to Croatia, but this year we will obviously not have 600,000 passengers there as last year.
Many people say that tourism has changed forever because of the pandemic. Do you agree with this? If so, how will it change?
It is true; a lot of people say that tourism will never be the same as before. Personally, I have my reservations about this. In my view, when the vaccine is ready, people will travel again.
How satisfied are you with the state measures taken so far aiming to help the sector?
It is definitely a positive step that from March to June, the sector was granted contribution relief, and the Kurzarbeit also helps businesses. However, it would be necessary to extend these opportunities until next spring so that thousands of jobs could be saved.