We have read with great disappointment and dismay the article published on the 19th August in Which? Travel and feel it is appropriate to clarify certain matters from the article.
Villa Plus was asked to respond to a number of questions by a journalist at Which? about the personal experiences of a handful of our customers. Whilst protecting the confidentiality and personal details of those people we made full and open responses to the questions as far as we could. We took the time to explain the circumstances around our decision making processes and how the relationships between our customers, villa owners and ourselves as the tour operator works. We also explained how the changes in advice coming from the FCO and central government, often at very short notice, have impacted upon us as a business, our agreements with villa owners and other suppliers and the way in which we are able to support our customers.
Sadly, given the detailed information Villa Plus provided, the journalist has chosen to present what we believe to be a highly misleading article to their readers. The article is very selective with the information it offers to the reader and how it presents that information. We believe that the selective presentation of information deliberately leads the reader to draw inaccurate conclusions about the actions of Villa Plus, the relationships we have with owners of villas and with our customers.
We believe it is inappropriate to discuss the holiday arrangements of individual Villa Plus customers in a public forum, and certainly not without their consent. We have however been in contact with each of the customers cited in the article to discuss their concerns about the options they were offered.
The decisions we made and the options presented to customers and villa owners were made in good faith and we believed them to be appropriate at the time they were made.
In order to qualify for a refund customers have to pay both deposit and balance for their holiday as stated in our terms and conditions when they booked their holiday. We always encourage our customers to take the time to read our T&C’s at the time of booking and have also consistently communicated to our customers the importance of making a full payment to qualify for a refund throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Villa Plus have made full refunds to thousands of customers or provided vouchers for future holidays over the course of the pandemic. Where possible we have offered suitable alternative villas and created alternative travel plans so that customers can enjoy a holiday. Throughout the period of the pandemic we have done our very best to deliver the holidays that our customers wanted and the fact that many of our customers have been able to travel and enjoy a holiday is testament to a great deal of hard work by our team at Villa Plus.
Communications with customers and with villa owners is very important to us and usually work in harmony from experience developed over many years but as you will appreciate this year has been very different. Given the ever changing nature of the situation Villa Plus has been engaging with our customers in departure date order and when the situation has been at its most dynamic our contact has in many cases been only a few days before their scheduled departure date. This is not ideal, and we recognise there have been occasions this summer where this has not always worked as it usually would. We apologise to those customers who have experienced worry or frustration as a result.
The article was also critical of our relationships with villa owners and the management of villa availability. Again, we believe this to be unfair and inaccurate as we have strong working relationships with our villa owners, and we value those relationships very highly.
COVID-19 has also affected villa owners who have faced significant challenges over the course of this year. Where holiday bookings could not be fulfilled due to travel restrictions many villa owners have made efforts to attract customers via other routes beyond Villa Plus by advertising their villa on other websites. Where customers have seen their villas advertised elsewhere this is because a villa owner, in believing travel from the UK is not possible, has made the decision advertise the villa more widely to attract bookings and plug the gaps left by UK travellers.
We have worked with villa owners this year in the same way as we work with our customers, providing support and flexibility and always honouring the terms and conditions of our contracts. In the vast majority of cases villa owners have been paid via a series of payments not linked to any one single booking made by a customer, and in many cases villa owners have received advance payments from Villa Plus.
The Which? article asks the question, “Is Villa Plus breaking the law?”
We believe that this is absolutely not the case and that if Which? had taken the time to read our response to them and understand the circumstances at the time decisions were being made in the cases they highlight they would recognise that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to the UK travel industry as well as many other sectors. At Villa Plus we have responded to a very challenging and dynamic set of circumstances but have always done the best we can for our customers and villa owners. We understand the worry and frustration that many of our customers have experienced this year and apologise for that. We will always put our customers at the heart of our business and our overriding priority is to provide every one of them with a fantastic holiday experience. It has been a challenging year for everyone, but in every case in trying to respond to a difficult situation we believe we have acted within the letter and the spirit of the law.