“We’re hamstrung by our suppliers,” Mr Kavanagh said, adding Flight Centre was turning around refunds within five days once the tour providers had refunded it to them. “We have thousands of suppliers we work with, all with different policies and conditions and most with processing systems that are very slow.”
A typical overseas trip might entail two or three different airlines, multiple hotels, a cruise line and individual tour operators. “We all love travel, but until now, most of us hadn’t stopped to think how hard it is to turn it all around.
“Travel booking is a system that was never built to go in reverse.
“Lately, the role our agents are now playing goes far deeper than transactional. It’s more of a professional service.”
As for customers wanting to make forward bookings, Flight Centre took the decision months ago to wipe out all agent fees to give potential travellers more peace of mind that if they do need to cancel, they won’t be asking also for a refund on the transaction.
Prior to Victoria and Queensland re-closing their borders for very different reasons, Mr Kavanagh said bookings had started to pick up, but then again fell abruptly.
“You’re at the point now where the prolonged uncertainty has made consumers even more gun shy. Initially, they were frustrated and unsure of what they could do. Now they just think it’s less risky to book.”
In terms of what Australians were booking, Flight Centre’s most booked flights from May to early August (pre the Queensland and Victoria borders closing) were Sydney-Brisbane-Cairns; Melbourne-Sydney; Perth-Broome and Adelaide-Brisbane.