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Relaxation of testing rules ‘not holy grail’, says APT boss

The boss of APT in the UK is “positive” about the market in 2022 but warns the recent relaxation of travel curbs is not the “holy grail” for boosting bookings.

Agents and operators reported a rise in sales after news of eased travel testing rules but stressed the need for consistent government advice.

Paul Melinis, UK and Europe managing director for the escorted tours and cruise specialist, told a Travel Weekly webcast that trading “really improved” after the announcement but is not back to 2019 levels.

“There is still a little bit of nervousness around; the latest news isn’t going be the absolute holy grail to bookings flooding in,” he said.

“I was positive in 2021. But I’m more positive in 2022.”

The operator is seeing fewer cancellations as customer confidence is growing – especially as its first departure is not until March 21.

There is also a trend for late bookings but Melinis warned there is less capacity as many consumers have had to move holidays from 2020 to 2021, and then 2021 to 2022.

However, there are opportunities for UK sales because Australians are not expected to be travelling in great numbers until the second half of the year.

As an Australian company, APT normally takes Australian travellers to destinations around the world but restrictions have kept them at home for most of the pandemic.

“In a normal year, we were fighting for space with the Australians, especially in Europe,” said Melinis.

“Australians won’t be travelling until the middle of the year, potentially June onwards, and we’re going have departures leaving from March.

“We’ve got so many fantastic opportunities coming for agent partners in the months of April, May and June.

“It’s just a great opportunity for agents to earn – we’re going to have some special things that we don’t normally have, and we should be releasing those in next couple of weeks.”

The operator’s annual peaks campaign, Time to Escape, is one of its biggest sales promotions ever, he said.

It is being supported by an agency incentive called Book More, Earn More, offering agents the chance to earn Love to Shop vouchers.

“We encourage agents to go on the APT Agent Club Facebook group [where] they can get updated with all the training, new initiatives and new incentives,” he told the webcast.

“Training and knowledge is absolutely key.”

He predicted agents will do well in 2022 as there are many opportunities for them to demonstrate their knowledge of products as well as the ever-changing restrictions.

“I’d encourage them to keep on learning…[the client] is coming to you because you’re an expert,” he told the webcast.

He advised agents to specialise in a range of sectors so that there is always someone on hand within an agency to deal with any particular query.

“There will always be opportunities that will come out of this. As long as we can travel, and there aren’t so many barriers, and it is easy and simple and safe, clients will continue [to travel],” he said.

“In the next couple of months to a year, we’ll see what the new normal is.

“We’re going to have to learn how to live with Covid.”

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