Lastminute.com Group confirmed it has around a quarter of COVID-19 refund requests from customers still to process and it will be clearing the backlog into next year.
Speaking at the Travolution European Summit, chief executive Marco Corradino, said the firm had originally hoped to be able to complete work to process all refunds by this month.
But he said due continuing to delays getting money back from airlines amid no enforcement of the seven-day airline refund laws in Europe, lastminute.com has been unable to deal with all demands.
Corradino said the firm has refunded €220 million worth of bookings over the last three months and it is now the firm’s top priority to work through those that remain to be paid.
“That is very difficult to do because if the flight has been cancelled and the customer is entitled to a refund it’s a problem because you have to talk with airlines, and airlines don’t answer.
“They didn’t answer in April, in May, and in June because the majority of the airlines were in furlough. Basically the customer called us, we called the airline and we didn’t have any answers.
“We have to remember that in reality airlines started to work again from mid-June. The customers started to ask for refunds in April, but the reality is that this was [only] happening from June.”
Corradino said the situation was exacerbated by no enforcement of consumer rights because in most countries regulations fall between different regulatory bodies and due to changing rules in Europe on refund vouchers.
However, he acknowledged that consumers are not interested in why refunds were delayed and are angry with consumer-facing brands like lastminute.com who they dealt with and are expecting to get refunds from.
“For sure, the consumer perspective is different,” Corradino said. “They are really angry with us and they complain a lot. We are trying to do our best but, for sure, everything that we can do is not what they want.”
When the pandemic hit, lastminute.com Group went from processing just a handful of cancellation requests a day to up to 3,000.
Corradino said a priority for the firm now is to focus on back-office technology to automate processes and establish better GDS links, which he admitted personal responsibility for ignoring in the past as the firm grew.
“The most important project we have is about rebuilding our foundation,” he said. “This has been my mistake. I under valued this because all the years before I was thinking about growth.
“We had incredible growth trajectory, but we didn’t invest enough in our back office system and in our foundation. We invested in everything that was consumer facing but we forgot that.”