The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt far and wide across the globe, and at Better Business Bureau, we’ve been tracking customer complaints coming in relative to coronavirus, resulting in 7,000 COVID-19 complaints and reviews in March 2020 alone.
That’s a 10 percent increase in complaints year over year, which helps to illustrates the magnitude of the current situation, according to a recent report released by the International Association of Better Business Bureaus. To be clear, these are complaints and reviews against businesses across the United States – not Scam Tracker reports.
By far, the bulk had to do with cancellations – a staggering 63 percent of incoming complaints were about cancellation terms related to travel, including airlines, hotels, concerts, and gym memberships. And those industries hit hardest with complaints were as follows:
- Travel Agencies – 634 complaints
- Airlines –527 complaints
- Online Travel – 388 complaints
- Vacation Rentals –372 complaints
- Hotels – 185 complaints
- Property Management – 125 complaints
As these industries continue to be inundated with requests for changes, rebookings or cancelations, BBB has found the majority are working hard to accommodate their clients.
“From an industry perspective, I feel we’re in line with what others are offering and what’s going on,” said Jo Basley, marketing manager of Oregon-based Grand European Tours. Grand European Tours offers escorted vacations worldwide, specializing in European packages. “We suspended all travel from April to June, so far. So, for consumers in that window, we offer a 110 percent travel credit that they can use for up to two years with travel insurance included. If a consumer does not want to go on their trip, but it falls outside that suspension window, then we handle it under our normal travel policy for cancellations and refunds.”
Basley noted that the lion’s share of customers have been receptive to this, with 80 percent of bookings intact. Some customer cases for refunds have been escalated and handled as such, so Grand European is offering refunds on a case-by-case basis.
“People want to travel – they still want to go on their trip, and they think that within two years, they’re going to be able to do that,” Basley said.
BBB Northwest + Pacific’s investigation team found that indeed, this is what most companies are doing. Not many are offering full refunds with no cancellation fees, particularly in the accommodations segment of the industry. Instead many are trying to find resolutions with each customer to rebook the trip for a date well into the future.
Keep in mind, the airline industry, which is federally regulated, operates differently than accommodations – just because your plane ticket was refunded, does not mean your entire trip can be refunded, too.
Another Oregon-based travel company, Meredith Lodging, has taken a similar approach. Meredith Lodging offers individually owned vacation home rentals and property management services along the Oregon Coast and in Central Oregon.
“We’ve adapted quickly and are trying get creative with rebooking to best serve each individual customer, because what works for one might not work for another,” said Jordan Grant of Meredith Lodging. “The main thing is we don’t want to add stress. We’re telling our customers, ‘It’s ok if you know you want to postpone but don’t have a date yet. We’re here when you figure it out and will work with you.’ We’re waving fees and matching rates for future bookings, which takes a lot of time and hard work.”
Currently, Meredith Lodging is rebooking customers out to May 2021.
But what’s happening beyond rescheduling? Once a customer is booked for a future trip, it will be critical for travel companies to communicate their updated policies and safety procedures in order for that trip to run smoothly.
In fact, BBB surveyed consumers in April to figure out what type of business practices they’re looking for in order to extend trust. The findings were as follows:
- 35 percent said they are looking for hygiene, protection, and social distancing policies
- 27 percent said they are searching for business that still have availability and speed
- 23 percent said other
- 15 percent said they are keeping an eye on how businesses handle refunds
“We’ve implemented all new products when it comes to cleaning each property,” said Aaron Linfoot, president of Meredith Lodging. “We’ve been telling our housekeeping staff to simply slow down.”
Linfoot noted some of these changes, including requiring all housekeepers to wear new booties in each home; wearing gloves and masks at all times; disinfecting all touchpoints they hadn’t before such as light switches and cabinet knobs; throwing out all paper goods, such as paper towels, between each stay no matter how much of it is left; and not allowing the same equipment to be brought from one home to another.
The common theme through all of this is that consumers are going to be looking for honest, transparent business they know they can trust.
Recent data suggests that a new customer is emerging – one who is more aware and intentional about how they spend their money and who gets their business. This underlines the importance of business owners taking a stance to truly operate with integrity, advertise honestly and take care of each customer – both in good times and in unprecedented hard times.