Expedia Group has asked consumers with travel plans more than a week out to wait to contact customer support.
The comments came as several OTAs reported an unprecedented number of calls, which were swamping systems.
At Expedia Group the company lost 35% from its share price between 16th and 18th March.
Expedia Group said: “The impact of COVID-19 on travel continues to change rapidly. As a result, many customers who have booked travel through online travel agencies have been experiencing difficulties either connecting with travel advisors or cancelling and changing plans directly on these sites.
“Our teams recognise the challenges our customers have faced in trying to contact us, and they are intently focused on helping them during this very unprecedented situation. Travel remains a vital part of the global economy and we are doing our part to ensure all those in need have the full extent of our help and assistance.”
The company said that the Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and CheapTickets were “working around the clock with their travel partners to process an unprecedented number of customer requests”. The group has increased the number of travel advisors, improved existing self-service options and introducing new automated facilities.
Expedia Group advised travellers with plans are more than a week out to wait to contact customer support. Travellers with trips in the next seven days were encouraged to visit customer service pages.
Regarding hotel bookings, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and CheapTickets were waiving change fees for many hotels based on where travellers were are travelling to or from and travel dates. Full refunds were also being given to travellers - who were non residents - who had booked to visit: China, Hong Kong, Macau; South Korea; Israel; Marshall Islands; El Salvador; Denmark and Slovakia; Czech Republic, Oman and India; Poland; Cyprus; Ukraine and Italy.
At Booking Holdings the company has followed much of the rest of the sector in withdrawing its previously announced first quarter 2020 financial guidance as a result of the worsening impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on travel demand.
Glenn Fogel, president & CEO Booking Holdings, said: “The circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak are changing rapidly and our guidance was based on the information we had at the time. As the situation has worsened and the negative impact on travel demand has increased since we provided guidance, in particular more broadly across Europe and in North America, we have decided to withdraw that guidance.
“Given the rapidly evolving situation, we are unable at this time to reliably quantify the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on our future financial results. We plan to provide more information during our first quarter earnings call based on the information we have available at that time.
“While the full impact and duration of the COVID-19 outbreak is unknown at this time, we have been through travel disruptions in the past and expect that this disruption will ultimately be temporary. We believe the company has a strong operating model and solid balance sheet, which will enable us to weather this disruption. We remain confident in our long-term prospects and strategy, and we will continue to manage the company in a measured way to build value for the long term.”
SunTrust analyst Naved Khan reduced Booking Holdings 2020 estimates for revenues and Ebitda from $14.98bn to $9.66bn and from $5.91bn to $3.1bn, respectively.
Khan said he expected travel declines to bottom out during the second quarter. He said that the “intrinsic value of the business remains very compelling” for long-term investors and that Booking Holdings’ performance could rebound in 2021.
Insight: There is currently a varied onus on personal responsibility for the global consumer. In France, residents have been locked carefully away, only to be released on presentation of a certificate. In the UK, residents have been told how they should behave and then whether they wanted to do this left largely down to them. This has led to some failing to change lifestyles, frolicking down the streets while others scuttled in the shadows, gloved and hatted.
The same has been true for companies, who are now demanding a change in behaviour from their consumers. Supermarkets in the UK issued a joint letter asking whether people can possibly stop hoarding like demons. Now Expedia is asking for customers to just pause resolving their travel plans and give them a chance to answer. It doesn’t have to be dealt with right now, people.
This is a problem of their own making. As consumers we have become the consumers of now. Amazon delivering same day by drone. Netflix streaming whole series the minute they come out, which are then watched in night-long binges.
There is much talk about what things will look after we are all allowed back outside. There will be pent-up demand for all things leisure (assuming there’s any cash left to pay for it), but will we all also be more patient, less rushed, less demanding? The OTAs hope they can untrain us before then. Seems unlikely.