The trade is resigned to a tough winter market and travel failures if companies cannot find funding to survive the coming months.
Speaking in a distribution panel discussion in a Travel Weekly Future of Travel webcast, senior trade figures said there was still a “huge way to go” to regain holidaymakers’ confidence and warned companies to plan for the worst in the absence of a vaccine.
Travel Counsellors UK managing director Kirsten Hughes said: “We have all resigned ourselves to the fact winter is going to be tough until there’s sight of a vaccine.
“Atol renewals are coming up and sadly some [companies] won’t make it. There will be some failures, it’s inevitable.”
Hughes reported a marked shift at Travel Counsellors to extremely late bookings for the winter, three to four days before departure, in recent weeks.
She said: “People still want to go away…[but] I don’t think the industry will bounce back at the rate we thought it would.
“I think we will have a much later winter business. We’ve seen it in the last few weeks. People want to know where they can travel to where they will be safe, which comes down to having that personal advice of somebody professional.
“We’ve literally had customers ring up and say I want to go on Saturday, I’ve got £20,000 to spend, where can I go?”
Alistair Rowland, who started as group chief executive of Blue Bay Travel this month after leaving The Midcounties Co-operative, said ‘pure’ Atol holders, as opposed to homeworkers or consortium agents trading under another company’s Atol, would have to find the funding to survive the winter.
“If you are one of those businesses that is a pure Atol holder, it’s about shoring up enough cash to get you through to spring 2021,” he said.
“It’s really difficult with no insurance market for insurance based bonds, so those people, if they get past September, will need to fund through the winter.
“For consortium agents or personal travel agents and agents who are still able to receive commissions instantly you can definitely pile into the summer 2021 because demand is out there; that should be a key focus.”
Rowland said winter bookings were around a quarter of normal levels, adding that new travel sales, monitored through Abta, had dropped off at a rate of “about 85%” in the industry after quarantine restrictions were announced for Spain at the end of July.
Richard Singer, chief executive of holiday comparison website Icelolly.com, said winter trading would depend on whether the government allowed travel to the Canary Islands.
“Typically we have always depended on the Canaries, and Spain, as a big mainstay [for winter]. We have all got big fingers crossed; we are looking for the Canaries to come on stream,” he said.
But he admitted: “Even if we get the Canaries there’s still a huge lack of confidence from consumers. It’s getting stuck [in destination] people are concerned about. So many things need to happen before there is a natural increase in demand.
“You have to plan for the worst-case scenario. Next year could still be a very low booking year; there is a huge way to go in the absence of a vaccine.”
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