Southall Travel Group has announced measures to ‘ramp up’ its capacity to deal with refund and other queries, as it issued £22 million worth of payments to its customers. The firm reportedly said it has refunded 94% of customers with package bookings to 31 May 2020. Package customers due to travel up to June 30 will be refunded by June 15, though it reportedly accepted that it is still struggling to get money back from many airlines for flight-only bookings.
Priyanjana* was meant to travel to India on 29 March. A regular customer of Southall Travel for last 6 years, she likes the flexibility Southall Travel offers to book flight tickets, with a token amount to reserve a seat and pay the rest nearer to flying date. When India announced border closure, the agency representative called her immediately to notify about the travel ban. However, with travel uncertainties, Priyanjana wrote to Southall Travel about her deposit to be refunded and last week, she received a call offering her a two-year voucher amounting to the money she paid, or a full refund. “I chose to take a refund. Though I am yet to receive the £500 back, I have been told it will hit my account within two weeks. This will help my budget in these unprecedented times,” she told Asian Voice.
One of Southall’s OTA brands, Travel Trolley, was recently criticised and came bottom in a recent MoneySuperMarket study to show how travel companies were responding to refund requests. But Jaymin Borkhatria, the chief commercial officer of Southall Travel and OTA brands Travel Trolley and Sky Sharp told Lee Hayhurst of Travolution, that if the study was repeated now, it will be a “completely different story”. He emphasised that average waiting time for customers calling its call centre is now two minutes. He also called the criticism ‘unfair’, since lockdowns affected both UK and India severely (where its call centres are) and disrupted the company’s capacity to deal with clients.
With most of its 280 airline suppliers having stopped allowing automated GDS refunds, and some even refusing refunds entirely, Southall Travel has now increased its refund processing team from 15 to 300 to deal with many queries. Following complaints, Southall Travel has last month also decided to wave any admin fees it is legally allowed to charge for processing refunds. The company has refunded money to clients even before they were given it back by the respective airlines, specially wherever they have been confident of getting it back from the carrier.
Operating more than 35 years, Southall Travel is privately-owned company. In 2015, Southall Travel founder Kuljinder Bahia and his family headed the top wealthiest people in travel in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Rich list.
(*Name changed on request)