Covid-19 Travel update: 23 April 2020

    We hope you are safe and well in your ‘bubble’ and looking forward to a little more freedom next week!

    Following the government’s announcement to move to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 from 23:59 on Monday 27th April 2020, as a ‘non-essential’ business our office must remain physically closed for the time we are at Level 3, currently set for 2 weeks, and following this, subject to review. Throughout this period, as we have at Level 4, the Discover Travel team will all be working remotely for you. This means that while we won’t be able to meet with you in store, we can still be contacted by email and phone as normal, just working slightly reduced hours over the next 3 months.

    As the majority of flights are now suspended from NZ until the end of June, we are working on the assumption that most of our clients’ travel plans for at least the next 3 months will need to be deferred, either to later in 2020 or in most cases, to 2021. We are working through these in date order and, in most instances, now processing deferments for travel plans that were initially made for May-July 2020. This is a very complex process as  every airline, tour operator and cruise line has a slightly different ‘flexibility policy’ which is being applied for different (original) travel dates. In some cases (e.g flights or train tickets within Europe) flexibility is only currently extended if travel was up to the end of May.

    Each of the major airlines operating out of NZ have their own flexibility policy in place for a range of travel dates. Some are for travel to the end of May (Cathay Pacific), the end of June (e.g Singapore Airlines, Air NZ or Etihad), others until the end of July (e.g Qantas), September (Qatar Airways) or the end of November (e.g Emirates). In many cases these policies have changed multiple times as the current crisis has unfolded, so please bear with us as we decipher them on your behalf, before giving our best qualified advice.

    Travel services provided by suppliers (Principals), including the tour operator are made subject to their own terms and conditions which are enforced at their discretion. Changes, deferrals or cancellations due to COVID-19, or government intervention, are generally regarded as due to circumstances outside of the control of a supplier and, as we are now seeing, there may be limited rights for a refund from a supplier in these circumstances. As such, very few suppliers are offering refunds of non-refundable airfares, tours, cruises or hotel bookings at this time. The vast majority are applying their usual cancellation policies and providing full credits (and in some cases more than 100% credits) for future travel. Credit policies vary widely but all with the intent that the customer may re-use its paid-for travel arrangements at a time in the future. These supplier policies are subject to change.

    Singapore Airlines and Emirates are currently offering refunds where they have cancelled their flights. However, due to the volumes of requests being managed by these suppliers, processing these refunds is taking them longer than normal. Under standard business conditions, airline refunds can take on average 4- 6 weeks to be processed. In the current circumstances airlines are advising us that refunds will be processed in date order of travel and delays of eight weeks, or longer, are not unexpected.

    For any travel products cancelled and submitted for refund, we reserve the right to charge our standard Discover Travel cancellation fee being 10% of the value of the items cancelled, in addition to any supplier cancellation fees. In these circumstances typically, suppliers are yet to provide a service to you as a customer, yet as a travel consultant, we have provided a service when working on your travel arrangements initially, and also then behind the scenes, working on behalf of customers with our suppliers to cancel or reschedule bookings, arrange refunds and deliver the best possible outcomes for our customers. We believe our fee is a fair and reasonable reflection of the considerable time and effort we have put into creating your booking, as well as managing the process of arranging that value of the arrangements either be held in credit, or the cancellation thereof, and seeking refunds from the supplier(s) on your behalf.

    Allianz Travel Insurance policies that have been issued may now also be deferred to future travel (dates to be confirmed) and where clients are choosing to cancel rather than defer their trips, we can now cancel Allianz policies that won’t be required, with a 15% cancellation fee.

    For travel from 1 July 2020 onwards, as most flights are currently still scheduled and many tours and cruises not yet cancelled by the supplier, we ask that you continue to please be patient while our suppliers evaluate how long this event will last. In most instances, it’s advisable to wait for the supplier to cancel the service so more favourable flexibility and refund policies can then be applied.

    We are continuing to work with our overseas suppliers regarding the postponement our first four Discover Travel 2020 Escorted tours to similar timeframes in 2021.

    Highlights and Highlands of Ethiopia – this is being rebooked for April/May 2021

    Dunes and Delta Discovery – this has been rebooked to 1-25 June 2021

    In Search of the Polar Bear – this will be rebooked for June 2021 when we get the go-ahead from the ship operator

    Back to the USSR – this is being rebooked for July 2021.

    For each tour, this is a very complex logistical process, compounded by the reality that our overseas tour operator suppliers are also in lockdown, working reduced hours with limited staff, and have been busy assisting their guests who are currently stuck in these countries. We are advising our booked guests as soon as the rebooking process is complete, and we thank you for your patience in these most unusual of circumstances.

    At this stage, our Timeless Turkey trip in September 2020 is still scheduled to operate, subject to review in a month’s time.

    Please email your dedicated travel consultant for assistance as we are always here to help.

    Ian Collier            [email protected]

    Peter Dunne       [email protected]

    Juliet Davis          [email protected]

    Janine Hay           [email protected]

    Linda Weiss         [email protected]

    You can rest assured that for Discover Travel it’s business as (the new) normal. Following the Canterbury Earthquakes in 2011, we’ve all had plenty of practice at working remotely, and are fortunate to be working in an industry where this is possible.

    Discover Travel has been in business for 20 successful years and is part of the House of Travel group. We have strong cash reserves and throughout our history we have confidently weathered all the significant local and global issues which have impacted the travel industry. You can be assured that we operate in strict accordance with the Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) guidelines. We maintain separate customer bank accounts independent of our operating accounts. Customer funds are held in trust until payable or otherwise contractually due to travel services suppliers (Principals). It is important to note the funds, once paid to the supplier, are not in our possession. They were paid to the supplier commensurate with the terms and conditions of the contract formed between the supplier and the customer.

    When this is all over, we’re looking forward to welcoming you back into the office and helping you get away for what will sure to be a very well-earned holiday! We anticipate being able to offer you some fabulous NZ domestic travel options as soon as we return to Alert Level 1. We also look forward to further government updates about the much speculated ‘Travel Bubble’ with Australia and perhaps the Pacific Islands in due course.

    Stay safe and Kia kaha New Zealand,

    Ian, Peter and the Discover Travel Team.