1 September 2008 by Pete Mathers
If you believed everything you read in the papers, you would believe we are about to enter the Dark Ages with the media predicting the collapse of the air industry and the demise of leisure travel. Thankfully, I work for a company that’s witnessed many environmental, economic and socio-political events during its 38-year history, and one fact has remained constant, throughout it all, nothing has stopped the Great British public from travelling using trusted travel experts.
So when Dermont Blastland, the uk md of the world’s largest tour operator, tui, was reported in the Telegraph as saying travel agents provide more security during an economic crisis than Internet travel groups, I could only concur. Consumers are indeed turning away from the web to seek personal travel advice. More and more people are realising the benefits of clubs such as Wexas, where an expert consultant can answer any questions you may have. The security we offer our members is more than just financial, it’s psychological: a familiar voice at the end of the phone; a long and trusted pedigree; medical, legal and other assistance provided by axa to all members while travelling abroad; even 24/7 emergency access to a Wexas consultant for our Gold members.
I’m happy to say I attended the recent ABTA travel convention, and heard the same shift in consumer practices discussed there. For those who don’t know, ABTA was formed in 1950 and represents over 5,500 travel agencies and 900 tour operations throughout the British Isles. It maintains high standards of trading practice for the benefit of its members, the travel industry at large and the public consumer.
The ABTA logo provides travellers with almost instant peace of mind. Wexas Managing Director, Steve Allen, has been on the board at abta and helped shape the industry’s recent convention. But he highlights that while ABTA provides consumers with confidence, the real financial protection is provided by the Civil Aviation Authority’s atol bond. It is this organisation that repatriates holidaymakers who are stuck overseas, or returns money to travel bookers in the event of an airline or holiday company going bust, which is precisely what happened to xl this September.
Wexas pays into this atol bond, which means when you book with us, you book and travel with confidence. When xl collapsed, Wexas consultants personally contacted all of our members affected, reassuring them before they fretted and called us. Book direct with an airline or hotel, and you risk being stranded both geographically, financially and emotionally.
So can we expect more xl-esque collapses as the economy attempts to regroup? British Airways ceo Willie Walsh is reported to have predicted the collapse of up to 30 airlines. With 75 low-cost airlines in Europe alone, some may argue that that’s no bad thing. The truth is that a shake-up of uneconomical services happens every year. Some routes will be dropped this winter, but just as many new ones will open up. Scandinavian Airlines, for example, is launching a new service to Delhi on 27 October. British Airways is soon to open routes to St Kitts in the Caribbean and to Brazil’s capital of cool, Rio de Janeiro. Established airlines of this kind, and these are just two of many, continue to produce healthy balance sheets.
One of the toughest things for any airline to predict is the fluctuating price of oil. Not so long ago this soared to nearly $150 a barrel, yet now, at the time of writing, it’s back down to nearer $85. Given the amount of oil used in aviation, this is bound to affect the airline industry more than it may do others. To counter any potential risk, Wexas offers free airline failure protection whenever you book a flight through us. Not only does this differentiate us from other agencies, but it provides up to £1,500 worth of insurance cover per person in the event of an airline’s bankruptcy. So once again, even when booking no more than a flight, you’re free to book with confidence.
We take such measures because we value the trust of our members. The majority of our 25,000 members came to us via word of mouth, from people appreciating good value and service and telling their friends and family. We’ve witnessed the highs and lows of travel for nearly four decades. Many big names have disappeared in that time: Laker Airways in the 1980s, ilg in the 1990s and most recently the xl Leisure Group, which was, after all, the third biggest tour operator in the uk. Yet the Wexas name remains constant.
It’s amazing how resilient the British public are, and Wexas members in particular. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (pwc), the uk travel industry has continued to grow since 1981, through the Gulf War, sars, the tsunami and 9/11. The only year in which the industry failed to grow was 1996. And what earth-shattering event caused the downturn? Well England hosting Euro ’96 of course. Once again it looks like nothing is going to stop the determined British public from travelling. No longer is travel considered a luxury. Research carried out by pwc into where consumers are willing to reduce their spending placed overseas travel a good way down the list, after eating out, electronic goods, designer labels, buying a new car and more besides. If we’re forced to listen to doomsayers for 50 weeks of the year, then the two-week summer holiday is more important than ever, especially on the back of two dismal British summers.
According to Martin Broughton, President of the Confederation of British Industry (cbi), we are still “an affluent society”. Broughton predicts a shallow recession of 3% decline (with government action), but after ten years of economic growth this will hardly take us back to the Dark Ages (as many a newspaper would have us believe) but to 2006 in economic terms.
As a travel club, we’re working harder than ever to ensure we deliver great value as well as great service. Thanks to the personal relationships we’ve developed over the years, we’re able to negotiate exclusive offers with airlines, hotels and tour operators. And should you find the same holiday from another atolbonded company then we’ll gladly match the price or refund your membership fee.
Rest assured that we understand the importance of travel in the British psyche, that we’ve the experience and expertise to create exceptional holidays, and that more than ever we’ll continue to deliver them at great value.