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Peak-season sales up as Brits bid to beat VAT hike

The trade saw an encouraging start to peak-season bookings with Spain, Turkey and Egypt the most popular choices.

Retailers reported a slight rise in sales and a high number of enquiries, boosted by a surge in high-street footfall on New Year’s Eve as people tried to book their holidays before the increase in VAT to 20% on January 4.

Holiday bookings are expected to peak in the second half of January, with figures likely to be up on the same period last year when heavy snowfall hit trading.

Advantage head of commercial John Sullivan said agents were busy and booking values were up, but admitted: “It’s hard to tell how many enquiries will convert into bookings.”

Canary Islands, Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, mainland Spain and the Turkish resort of Marmaris were among the top 10 most-searched for destinations on January 4 on Travel Weekly-owned agent website Gazzetteers.com.

Steve Campion, managing director of online agency, Holiday Discount Centre, said: “Sales are up, but it’s early days.”

Kuoni vice-president distribution and operations Derek Jones said: “The industry saw a good retail performance on December 31 and agents generally benefitted from the spike in retail business before VAT went up.”

Independent operators and bed banks were also optimistic.

Travel 2 managing director Andy Freeth said: “We are still very optimistic considering the weather issues.”

Holiday Brokers group sales director Brian Young said bookings so far this year were 20% up, with the Canaries and Egypt top sellers.

The reports follow travel chaos during the festive break caused by the snow. Gatwick and Heathrow closed pre-Christmas, while 7,000 flights were cancelled after a foot of snow fell on the east coast of the US.

Abta predicted four million people were due to travel over Christmas and new year but admitted many would have been affected by the poor weather.

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