Online Travel Conference: chief sets out ‘staggering’ challenge of COVID-19

Online Travel Conference: chief sets out ‘staggering’ challenge of COVID-19

Andrea Bertoli took part in a panel discussion on the impact in Europe

Leading European OTA set out the huge impact coronavirus had on its business as the crisis spread across the continent.

Speaking in an Online Travel Conference panel session hosted by Travolution, chief executive of the iconic digital travel brand, Andrea Bertoli, said the speed and magnitude was “staggering”.

He said the OTA went from a operating as a booking engine to becoming a cancellation engine within weeks as first Italy, then France, Spain, the UK and Germany closed down.

Lastminute has saw a 95% drop in the volume of reservations over a three-week period in March.

“We had a machine running taking 15,000 bookings per day and now we are below 1,000. The whole machine stops and then, of course you have all the customers that start calling in.

“Normally, on average, we manage 3,000 cancellation per month, that’s the average. Over the last four weeks we’ve received 300,000 cancellation of flights, hotels or packages.

“So, all the industry changed. We went from being a booking website to a cancellation website. All the processes in the company, the back office, was not prepared to manage this kind of volume.

“I understanding the frustration of the consumer not being able to get their money back or manage their cancellation management but this is something really big and will take time to manage.”

Bertoli said was able to retain most of its 1,200 staff and switch to them remote working, but it lost a third of its customer care capacity due an Indian partner not being able to work from home.

“We’ve been six weeks now, all working from different locations. Even setting up an environment where you can work, it’s a huge challenge. It’s quite an impressive period to live in.”

Discussing the impact of the CPVID-19 crisis and the issues it has uncovered, Bertoli refuted claims the sector operates as a massive Ponzi scheme spending customer money for trips yet to be taken.

He said all retail models survive by spending customer money, the only difference is how long they retain the cash for before paying suppliers.

“Any retailer works with working capital,” he said. “I tend to disagree when people say travel is a Ponzi scheme. It’s a normal industry, it’s retail.

“No industry is prepared for a drop in demand of 95% or 100%. There is no industry in the world that can shut down production entirely.”