The trade is predicting a much-needed bookings bounce with the decision to delay Brexit tipped to release pent-up demand for this summer.
The Brexit delay until October 31, announced last Thursday, is expected to give consumers more confidence to book summer holidays.
Operators and agents reported an immediate sales uplift and called the announcement a “short-term boost”, giving a “breather”.
The news follows fears of a price war after months of Brexit uncertainty. Summer bookings were flat year on year up to April 13 following weeks of trading below last year’s levels (see box).
Abta led the buoyant response as it anticipated three million holidaymakers would go away this Easter and May Day, and predicted many would use the breaks to book summer trips.
Chief executive Mark Tanzer said the delay “should give people total confidence to book their holidays knowing nothing will change in the short term”.
He added: “It also gives travel businesses some respite from immediate no-deal planning, but with no-deal still possible in the autumn, uncertainty remains.”
Aito director Noel Josephides said: “The end of October sees the end of the main summer season for travel bookings and, if we exit the EU then, it will be an easier time to do so from the industry’s perspective.” But he warned: “The pressure will simply transfer to winter season bookings.”
Tui slashed £100 off “hundreds of thousands” of packages booked in the five days after the delay announcement. Independent operators and agents were upbeat.
Paul Waters, director of 18-branch agency Premier Travel, said: “Sales have improved – our branches have been much busier following the announcement.”
Miles Morgan, owner of Miles Morgan Travel, said: “I’m confident of a post-Easter boost in bookings.”
Aaron Hocking, UK managing director, Intrepid Travel, said the delay was “a short-term boost” but could hit Christmas travel bookings.
Peter Traynor, managing director at Railbookers, said: “We expect the Brextension to release pent-up demand for later in the summer.”
Chris Wright, managing director at Sunvil, forecast a summer sales recovery, adding:“October 31 is the best of a bad situation. It gives us a breather. There was definitely a buzz about the phones on Friday and Saturday.”
Paul Melinis, managing director, APT UK & Europe, said: “The delay has shifted the customer mindset from browsing to booking their 2019 holidays.”
GfK: Signs of summer sales turnaround
The Brexit delay came too late last week to lift summer 2019 bookings substantially, with industry analyst GfK recording an 11% decline year on year in the week to April 13.
However, bookings on Saturday were 2% up on a year ago despite it being the middle of the Easter school holiday, suggesting the delay may release pent-up demand.
GfK reported bookings in the comparison week last year were up 24%, making Saturday’s improvement look even better. Bookings for the current winter were up 20% year on year last week.
Season-to-date bookings for summer 2019 are now flat year on year, but GfK client insight director David Hope said: “Late bookings for winter 2018-19 are strong and Saturday saw a pick-up. I’m optimistic we’ll see some growth now.”