OPERATORS are cautiously optimistic the market is
beginning to improve but admit sales to tsunami-hit regions remain
“desperate”.

After a slow start to the year, the trade has reported an
increase in business although some remain down on last year.
Unofficial reports put the market around 15% down.

The affected areas are still struggling to pick up business,
leaving the Caribbean and the US to take the lion’s share of
the long-haul market, particularly thanks to the weak dollar.

TUI UK commercial and retail director Derek Jones said Thomson
Holidays is improving on the 10% drop in sales experienced at the
start of the month, a trend he expects to continue.

“There’s some positive news. Over the weekend we saw the
market coming back quite nicely.”

However, Jones admitted sales for the afflicted regions were
“desperate” – and said this was something that could take
time to change.

Cosmos commercial director Stuart Jackson said this weekend and
next weekend would be key. “There has been some apathy in the
market so far.”

Agents also reported improved sales, particularly in unaffected
destinations.

Midconsort chief executive Charles Eftichiou said: “January is
starting to move and we’re up on last year. Although
it’s small numbers percentage-wise, it leaves me optimistic
for the year.

Suffolk-based Johnson Stevens Travel general manager Peter
Cansick said: “We’ve started with a bang, which has surprised
me, and the US and Australia are booking well.”

Advantage MD John McEwan admitted bookings for the Indian Ocean
had fallen by 35%-40%, pushing overall sales down 6% on this time
last year.

Travelcare reported the first 10 days since Christmas were down
20%-30% but sales have now recovered beyond last year’s
levels. General manager Amanda Williams said: “Fingers crossed,
things are kicking in. It’s taken a little more time than
usual but the situation is definitely improving.”