The trade is reporting ‘bumper’ late sales despite frustration caused by the date announced for the switch from PCR to lateral flow tests for arrivals in England.
Agents said sales for holidays between now and Christmas were growing “by the day”, boosted by competitive deals and by the switch in requirement for lateral flow tests for day-two arrivals, expected to save a family of four around £100.
The government is due to introduce a new list of lateral flow test providers today (Friday), with fully jabbed travellers able to book their swabs ready for their return next week.
However, The Telegraph reported that analysis of firms on the official list that already offer lateral flow tests show they are charging up to 20 times the price of tests available in Europe.
The study of existing providers reveals the costs range from £17.99 – offered by 001 Expert Covid Testing UK – to £150 by The Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent.
At least half a dozen cost £100 or more, although the costs were inflated by offering a bespoke on-site testing service rather than the “click and collect at home” tests the government has allowed.
Many were also priced at £50 or more, compared with all the major European destinations offering lateral flow tests at €30 or less (£25.32).
Even the cheapest failed to disclose in their headline price advertised on gov.uk that packaging and posting will add £10 to the cost.
Despite this, Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews reported a “bumper week”. She said: “October half-term is a sell-out and after that there are great offers for November and December.”
But she said the timing of the lateral flow tests change was a “nightmare” for clients on holiday needing to book tests.
“It means clients go away with it not sorted and have to sort it out online from overseas,” Matthews said.
Fred Olsen Travel head of commercial Paul Hardwick described the date as “frustrating” for clients who had already paid for more-expensive PCR tests for half-term travel. But he said the news, combined with “great deals”, was driving late bookings.
He said the agency’s income last week was marginally higher than in the same week in 2019, while 60% of all sales this month were for travel this winter. “Momentum is gaining pace,” he added.
Sales for some Independent Travel Experts members hit 75% of 2019 levels. Managing director Gary Gillespie said: “Some homeworkers are actually struggling to cope with the number of enquiries.”
News of the lateral flow date had led to an “immediate increase in enquiries and bookings” but Gillespie admitted: “If customers have issues ordering tests they won’t be able to complete the Passenger Locator Form. Many are opting for PCRs for peace of mind.”
Advantage Travel Partnership said 45% of last week’s bookings were for travel this year, with Spain most popular. The consortium reported its best three weeks’ trading since the start of the pandemic, with sales consistently about 90% of 2019 levels. Last week was its best week this year for long-haul sales.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said: “People are booking late. The most noticeable change is long-haul sales are starting to come back.”
London-based Travel Designers reported its best week for 22 years.