For many Belgians the big holiday starts on July 1. However, unlike the previous summers, travel agencies are not reaping the benefits. Although the coronavirus seems to be under control and more and more countries are opening their borders, it remains quiet in the Belgian travel agencies. ‘The bookings are getting off to a very slow start,’ confirms Koen van den Bosch, CEO of the Association of Flemish Travel Agencies (VVR).
“People are eager to travel, but often they don’t dare,” says Griet Van Rompaey, who runs a small travel agency in Mol. “Traveling outside Europe is not yet possible and people do not want to book for Christmas yet.”
“It is going very badly,” says Guy Geens of Anders Dan Anders, an Antwerp travel organizer specializing in group travel outside Europe. ‘I have no turnover since March 1. Nothing comes in, not even requests. All trips have been canceled until October 15. Nobody is eager to travel outside Europe. ”
The travel sector hopes that the borders to the tourist attractions will open again soon. “There are still only 16 countries where you can go without restrictions, only in Europe,” emphasizes van den Bosch. “That’s 6 percent of the normal offer.”
Van Rompaey recommends her clients to travel to Italy for the time being. ‘France has been very popular in recent weeks because it is not far, but the hotels are quite fully booked. Italy is also a pleasant country and you can go there by plane or by car. ‘
Nothing follows the contamination figures abroad closely. “Namibia has very few infections, so does Thailand,” he says hopefully. “But if the borders to South Africa open on September 1, few Belgians will leave a day later.”
The corona crisis leaves travel agents with a huge financial hangover. “The year had started well, but then came Corona,” says Van Rompaey. “I booked three months this year, then canceled three months, and now I’m going to rebook three months. The past three months I have worked to earn nothing. ”
I booked three months this year, then canceled three months and now I will rebook three months.
The sector does benefit from the voucher system developed by Federal Minister of Economy Nathalie Muylle (CD&V). By issuing coupons instead of immediately reimbursing canceled trips, tour operators were able to keep 345 million euros in cash.
However, according to European law, tour operators have to pay for unexpected damage if planned package tours do not go ahead. “I just received a message that a customer’s flight is returning a day later,” says Van Rompaey. ‘Then I have an extra day with a rental car or an extra hotel stay on my leg. Every day I think: as long as nothing happens today. ”
Due to the corona crisis, many travel agencies will end up in turbulent waters in the coming months. A questionnaire from the VVR showed that 25 to 35 percent of the travel companies expect to get into trouble this summer if there are no trips.
Van den Bosch expects that from October, if few bookings and therefore pennies arrive, it will become clear which companies survive. “Very many travel agencies are underfunded and barely have any reserves because the margins are far too small,” warns travel organizer Geens. “We will survive this crisis thanks to our reserves, but I see it gloomily. 2021 will be very bad. ”