The Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA) has decried the slow rate at which government and airlines are taking to remit pending bills and refunds owed to travel agents.
KATA Board Chairman Mr. Mohammed Wanyoike said that travel agents need these funds to cater for refunds to their clients.
“With the restricted movements in and out of the country occasioned by the highly contagious COVID-19, travellers have cancelled their scheduled flights. This means that no business is taking place and no revenue is coming in. Travel agents need these funds to refund travellers who have cancelled their flights,” he said.
Airlines, he further pointed out, have instructed passengers who had booked flights with travel agents to seek refunds from their travel advisors. “This puts agents in a bad position as the airlines have declined to refund tickets bought through agents,” Mr Wanyoike stated.
He noted that some airlines are issuing vouchers instead of cash refunds through agents therefore causing conflict for the agents, as customers are demanding full refunds in “cash” claiming that they have no immediate travel plans in the foreseeable future. Similarly, the travel agents cannot assign this voucher on other bookings owing to the issuing restrictions. This has also led to a bad stalemate between the customers and travel agents owing to the inflexibility demonstrated by the airlines issuing the refund vouchers.
On the other hand, Mr. Wanyoike further said, the government owes travel agents over Kes. 434 million in pending bills. “We have been working closely with government ministries to ensure that these funds are remitted to agents in good time to allow the sustainability of our businesses during this COVID-19 period where the travel industry has ground to a stop.
Currently, he added, travel agents are not operating as no travel is taking place. “the only business we are handling right now is refunding our clients and this has led to closure of many agencies who are operating on negative right now”.
He reiterated, “With COVID-19 disrupting life and business as we know it, we are bracing ourselves for a very difficult year. From a robust year where Kenya received over 2 million international guests, an increase of 37.7 percent as compared to 2018, this year we are down to zero. This has put millions of jobs at risk”.
Mr Wanyoike called upon clients and travellers owed to be calm and patient as travel agents strive to resolve the impasse. “KATA is founded on integrity, professionalism and transparency. We are pursuing the refunds and other monies owed persistently to ensure that each traveller receives their refunds,” he stated.