Bank support means holiday operator can plan for the future

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An overdraft extension of almost £2m has meant a Lancashire holiday firm has been able to repatriate customers, refund deposits, and plan to come back stronger when the pandemic crisis is over.

Alfa Leisureplex Group, based in Chorley, takes more than 115,000 people on holiday every year with a fleet of 48 state-of-the-art modern tourist coaches and 22 seaside hotels across the UK, including popular resorts such as Newquay and Llandudno, as well as some European destinations.

Most of its customers are over 60, so the business had to move fast to shut down its operations when the Government advised against all non-essential travel on March 16th.

Managing director Emma Russell said: “As a responsible employee-owned business, we made the decision to close and bring our customers home straight away.

“We felt it was the right thing to do to get everyone home as soon as possible so they could stay safe, stock up on essential provisions and get ready for the social distancing measures that were coming into place.

“When we made the announcement we got standing ovations in some of the hotels and we’ve been overwhelmed with messages of support from customers who are really appreciative of what we’ve done.”

Now Alfa has cancelled all its holidays until the end of April, with customers offered the option of either postponing their trip until a later date, getting a credit note valid until the end of 2022, or a full refund.

The reservations team are currently working from home to deal with customer enquiries and refunds, while the majority of the firm’s workers are currently on furlough.

A £1.9m overdraft extension was agreed by Lloyds Bank within 48 hours to help fund the refunds.

Emma said: “The support we’ve had from Lloyds gives us the security that we know we can continue to refund customers and we haven’t had to make any rash decisions about our employees’ future.

“We’re also using this time to plan our 2021 holiday programme and look at how we can improve the customer experience.

“We were a financially strong business before coronavirus and we fully intend to come back from this even stronger.”

The £43m turnover business is 75% owned by its 710 employees, who each receive an equal share of the company’s profits.

John Csizmadia, relationship director at Lloyds Bank, said: “We have been Alfa’s banking partner for more than 10 years now and we recognise that it is a robust business that just needs extra support during these testing times.

“It is a responsible firm that’s working hard to do the right thing by its customers and colleagues, and it has our full backing.

“Clearly, the travel industry has been hit particularly hard by coronavirus, but we’re working closely with our customers in the sector to provide the support they need.”