The UK’s major package holiday companies are weighing larger Atol licences in summer 2022 than they had in 2019 in anticipation of a strong summer season.
The bosses of summer sun specialists Jet2holidays, Tui and easyJet holidays spoke on the same panel at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel conference on Wednesday last week – ahead of the government scrapping the amber list and reducing the testing requirements on Friday.
Tui is currently the UK’s largest Atol holder, with a licence to carry 3,737,831 passengers, ahead of Jet2holidays, which has a licence for 3,479,182. EasyJet has two Atol licences in the UK’s top ten, with a combined total licence of 889,015.
Last year, at the peak of the impact of the pandemic, Tui and Jet2holidays decreased their Atol licences by more than three million between them. Tui had been at 5,555,145 in 2019 and Jet2holidays at 4.8 million earlier in 2020. EasyJet’s two Atol licences had totalled more than 1.5 million passengers going into the pandemic.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2holidays, told the Future of Travel event: “We expect we will be above 2019 numbers. We are working through the numbers at the moment.”
Speaking ahead of Friday’s announcement, he said government updates would affect the size of its licence, but stated: “It will be higher than our current licence.”
Heapy stressed Jet2 is “financially strong”, adding: “The CAA looks at our financials when it makes its decisions. We are confident.
“If the government leaves us to our own devices we will be fine.”
Andrew Flintham, managing director for the UK and northern Europe at Tui, agreed that the size of the operator’s Atol licence would hinge on Friday’s announcement.
He was less confident about the first quarter of 2022, but said: “Summer looks very good. We have huge forward bookings.
Flintham revealed that 1.3 million customers across the Tui Group had booked summer 2022 holidays as of Wednesday, with “the majority in the UK”.
“We expect to see a summer that’s as good, if not better, than 2019,” he said. “The question is what happens in winter before we get there.”
Flintham said long-haul destinations, in particular the Caribbean, were important to Tui’s winter hopes. He said he was “optimistic” tourism to the US could resume but noted that Mexico was “a challenge” in the current circumstances.
“The long-haul programme hinges on three or four destinations coming on-stream,” he said.
EasyJet holidays chief executive Garry Wilson reported “strong demand for 2022” last week and the operator announced a “surge in demand” over the weekend.
He said since the tour operator’s relaunch in November 2019 many customers who had looked at the easyJet site for a flight “end up booking holidays”.
“It’s interesting to think about the amount of customers who would’ve dynamically packaged themselves are coming back to booking a package. It’s a huge opportunity for all of us.