New industry figures reveal winter sales are bucking the downturn although agents’ share of business has slipped.

The surprise figures from Ascent Market Intelligence’s Leisure Travel Monitor suggest sales overall for this winter are 1% up.

This contrasts with sales of packages for this summer – which were 2% down – and sales for next summer, which were 3% down in September.

However, the positive growth for this winter’s sales are being driven by sales of holidays direct to consumers, up by 14% year on year, rather than the high street.

The bookings will include rebookings made following XL Leisure Group’s failure but duplication is “not extreme”, according to Ascent MI.

“Winter is looking more rosy and this will reverse expectations for a lot of people,” said chief executive Sarah Smalley, who suggested a widening gap between agent and direct holiday prices could be to blame for the decrease in agents’ share of sales.

Smalley added that the profile of winter customers – typically on a second holiday – could mean they are less affected by the current economic downturn.

The figures have been pushed up by strong sales of mid-haul holidays – up 4% and accounting for 42% of bookings – as well as ski holidays, which tend to fare well in the direct-sell marketplace because of a high number of repeat customers.

Sales for April 2009 – when Easter falls – are 23% up, while sales are also up for accommodation-only under £800, flight-only priced over £200, and packages costing more than £800. All-inclusive holidays are up 15%.

The balance of business, however, still lies in the high street’s favour, with a 61% share of sales against 39% taken by the direct market.

Travel and the economic crisis