Coronavirus crisis

Tourism firms cancel holiday bookings

Viking chairman Torstein Hagen declares in a video message that all cruises are cancelled until May 1.
Viking Cruises / fvw
Viking chairman Torstein Hagen declares in a video message that all cruises are cancelled until May 1.

Tourism firms are starting to cancel German bookings as sales slump and more and more countries worldwide impose drastic travel restrictions to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

German tour operators, travel agents, market researchers and other organisations already reported a dramatic slump in sales during February, prompting big tour operators to offer flexible re-booking and cancellation options to try to keep bookings flowing.

But their task has been made even harder this week as more destinations in Europe and overseas impose strict travel restrictions or even complete bans on visitors from Germany and other countries to try to slow down the worldwide spread of the Covid-19 virus.

In response, Viking Cruises announced today that it has cancelled all cruises until May 1 in order to protect customers, staff and business partners. Chairman Torstein Hagen described the decision as “absolutely necessary”.

Small specialist tour operator Ventura Travel also said on Thursday that it had decided to cancel all tours up to the end of April. The company said “protecting the health of travellers and local residents in destinations” has top priority at present.

TUI CEO Fritz Joussen admitted on Tuesday: “We made a strong start to the year. This lead is now melting away. We don’t know how the year is going to be.” TUI had a 14% year-on-year increase in summer 2020 bookings as of early February and had expected to achieve strong growth this year following the insolvency of top rival Thomas Cook.

As a result, Europe’s largest tourism group is now reviewing costs and capacity, especially the “particularly sensitive” cruise business, along with investments such as in areas with high fixed costs such as aviation.

Egyptian tourism entrepreneur and long-standing TUI business partner Hamed El Chiaty announced yesterday that he had bought a 3.4% stake to support the German group. “I know and trust the management that has successfully restructured the group since 2013,” he said.

On Monday, the German Travel Industry Association (DRV) led an industry delegation to meet tourism state secretary Thomas Bareiß where they called for financial support (read more here).

The DRV has also launched free webinars for travel agents on how to deal with concerned customers and issued press statements emphasising how customers booking a tour operator holiday are better protected than individual travellers thanks to flexible cancellation options.