The tourism industry largely agrees on what customers want most after the experience of the Corona year: The money-back guarantee, regardless of the reason for the cancellation of the trip.
“Offering flexibility is becoming the most important sales argument,” says Marek Andryszak, CEO of TUI Germany, on an online forum organized by the international tourism exchange ITB.
Ingo Burmester, European boss at the competitor DER Touristik Group, sees it exactly the same way.
In order to meet customer requirements, practically all major tour operators offer some kind of insurance solution for late travel cancellation at an additional cost.
What TUI means "Flex tariff" is the "Super-Safe-Carefree-Package" at DER Touristik.
Variations are heard by competitors on the name "Corona Goodwill Package" or "Peace of Mind" for the cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line.
In the meantime, TUI and DERtour confirm that the flex tariffs are booked for 70 to 80 percent of trips.
For a relatively small surcharge - at DERtours it is around 59 euros at a travel price of 3000 euros - you can get a high level of Corona carelessness.
If so, all accommodation costs for 14 days of quarantine as well as the organization and costs for the return journey of the family members are covered in the case of flat-rate air travel.
For the travel companies, the surcharge allegedly does not even cover all costs.
Contact with German-speaking doctors in the target area is established and a special hotline for virologists and doctors is available around the clock.
At TUI you can cancel free of charge up to 14 days before departure using the Flex tariff, a “Covid Protect” travel insurance also covers the costs of on-site treatment or the costs of medical transport back to a German hospital.
The fact that such offers are necessary is not only due to the sluggish booking start for this year's summer and autumn seasons.
At the ITB, a representative survey by the online portal Travelzoo showed that customer confidence in tour operators has suffered in 2020.
A quarter of Germans (24 percent) trust providers less than they did before the pandemic, and only 17 percent trust them more.
In the past year, almost a third had problems rebooking the canceled trip or getting the money back.
"Economically extremely questionable"
The survey also asked which factors arouse trust when booking travel in the pandemic.
The possibility of getting the money back or rebooking was the most common answer with 43 percent - well before the hygiene measures in the accommodation on site.
Fulfilling customer requests has top priority for the travel industry in its fatal economic situation, but the organizers shy away from the last consequence.
They also insist that the travel price is transferred in full or at least for the most part in advance.
At the ITB, consumer advocates once again demanded that the federal government abolish prepayment for flights and travel.
The practice is "economically extremely questionable", explained the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv): The money from customers who book today would be used to pay for the trips or flights for those who booked months ago and also paid for them.
The customers are "forcibly used as lenders", explained vzbv board member Klaus Müller.
The principle of prepayment is like “a flash in the pan that must always be fed so that it does not go out immediately.” In fairness, a flight should only have to be paid for when the flight begins, and a trip only when the journey begins, believes the consumer advocate.
The pandemic once again brought to light the structural problems of this system: on the one hand, no more fresh money flows into the coffers of the companies, on the other hand, in the event of a cancellation, prepaid customer money must be repaid within seven or 14 days.
The Federal Ministry of Justice is therefore also considering intervening in current practice.
"We are thinking about whether we have to restrict it," said Christian Kastrop (SPD), State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Justice, with a view to the prepayment practice on Wednesday at an event of the consumer advice centers.
One is open to work with all actors and also listen to the arguments of those who are calling for a complete ban.
At the same time, however, the economics professor pointed out that companies would benefit from long-term planning through customer prepayments.
This enables cheaper prices, for example.
Kastrop could also imagine a quick and automated reimbursement for cancellations.
“The technology for this is available,” said Kastrop.
Consumers would then not have to wait for their money.
"I also booked a flight with prepayment and haven't seen a cent yet," said Kastrop in his role as a citizen.
More than 80,000 requests for non-refunds
Thousands of other holidaymakers also felt the consequences last spring.
Numerous tour operators and airlines initially refused to reimburse the costs and delayed repayments, consumers complained.
Until recently, many reimbursements were apparently open, as surveys of online law enforcers, so-called legal techs, show.
The companies enforce the claims of consumers in court if necessary.
Flightright says it has received more than 80,000 inquiries from affected passengers since the beginning of April 2020.
By mid-February of this year, selected airlines in Germany had paid between 53 percent (Lufthansa) and 88 percent (Eurowings) of the requests for reimbursement submitted to Flightright since then.
"It was rare that consumer rights are disregarded to this extent," commented Alexander Weishaupt, legal expert at Flightright, recently.
Applications will be processed as quickly as possible, according to Lufthansa.
"As a result of new reimbursement applications that are regularly received, the number of reimbursement amounts still open will decrease, as it did before 2020, but not completely zero," explained a spokesman when asked.
The outstanding amounts are now at normal and pre-crisis levels.
The total number of ticket refunds still open fell to around 71,000 transactions with a value of around 34 million euros.
"And this, although flight cancellations had to be made continuously," it says.
From the airline's point of view, the previous rules on prepayment are still effective.
“A fundamentally short-term payment practice would mean, among other things, that the utilization of flights would be much less plannable,” explains Lufthansa.
As a consequence, flying with half-empty aircraft would not make ecological or economic sense.
In addition to the position paper, the vzbv also submitted a report by economic experts from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.
According to this, it is financially manageable if the travel companies do not pay for the hotels in the target area from the customers' advance payments, but finance these costs with loans.
According to the study, these costs would make up no more than 3.3 percent of the German air travel market volume and no more than 1.1 percent of the German package travel market.
Marek Andryszak, however, questioned the calculations at the ITB forum: "I am skeptical that this will only increase the travel price by 1.1 percent," said the TUI Germany boss: It should be two to three times as much.
But not all customers are willing to pay such additional costs.
Andryszak recalled the experiences from the hotel industry: a few years ago, the non-cancellable overnight stay was even introduced there at the customer's request, which could be offered at very reasonable prices.
"Customers want a price advantage," is his explanation: "With the full advance payment, customers can secure cheap trips."
Help came from DERtour manager Burmester: The deposit will be used to develop the tourist infrastructure in the target areas, for example to renovate hotels and to secure their winter liquidity.
Down payments are therefore well founded.
The fear of not being reimbursed the advance payment is unfounded in the future, regardless of the organizational difficulties of the past year.
Thanks to new legal requirements, customer funds are now "safer than ever before."
Guido Wiegand, a member of the Studiosus management team, is one of the few travel managers who have practically abolished prepayment this year.
However, the requirements for this at the specialist for group travel are not comparable with other package tour providers.
The waiver of prepayment did not attract more visitors, admits Wiegand.
After Corona, the offer will no longer be available.
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