Agents have a ‘massive opportunity’ to sell UK tours, say experts

The increase in interest for UK holidays is “not a stopgap” until overseas travel resumes with the trade at a “turning point” in embracing appetite for domestic travel, according to experts.

Phil Nuttall, chief executive of The Travel Village Group, said UK breaks had previously been seen as offering lower margins and less return on investment compared with international travel which, along with a lack of product available to agents and gaps in technology, had reduced opportunities to sell domestic holidays.

Speaking on a UK-focused session during touring and adventure association Atas’ Virtual Week, he said: “We are now at a turning point. There are always positives to come out of bad things and UK breaks is definitely a positive about the Covid situation.

“But it’s not just about now – it’s not a stopgap, this is something that’s going to be here for the [long term].”

Nuttall added that with more escorted tour operators offering UK product, greater familiarity with the sector could lead to growth in interest for touring holidays abroad, while enhanced hygiene measures would also contribute to a rise in standards across the board.

He said: “Some of the initiatives that are now being brought into the travel industry are going to be here to stay. We’re going to have an even better industry and for coach holidays and hotels, it’s going to be even safer.

“I feel really confident about the future of travel.”

Reassuring consumers about health and safety is also crucial to rebuilding confidence, according to Ashley Dellow, head of retail sales for Leger Holidays and Shearings.

He said: “There is an appetite to travel, there always will be. It’s just about consumer confidence.

“Our first Shearings tours [since the revival of the company] went out in October, and they were very successful. The Shearings customer is in that vulnerable bracket but they really want to travel – not one, not two, not three, but five coach holidays a year.

“[We have] forward bookings for 2021 and 2022, so there’s no question there’s an appetite for travel. We just need consumer confidence to come back and I think it will come back very strongly.”

He added: “I’ve been with Leger for 15 years, and I am now working with new agents or agents that I’ve known but not worked closely with, so it is a massive opportunity.

“Just in the short time that we’ve had the Shearings brand, it’s absolutely apparent that the UK market is massive.

“We want to work with you as much as you want to work with us. I actually think you’re going to see more people want to book with a travel agent after everything that has happened.”

The latest consumer research by VisitBritain showed a decline in confidence in booking a UK holiday before the end of the year, but found 35% of anticipated trips were due to take place in spring or summer 2021.

Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain, said: “It’s not till next April that people think that they will be able to start travelling more as normal.

“What’s causing that is restrictions from governments, more than the worry about catching the illness. So there’s a big job to do explaining what government restrictions are and where people can and can’t travel.”

She added: “There are some great products in the UK and, if you haven’t had a UK holiday for a while, people will be surprised and delighted  by what they’ve found this year.

“It’s up to us to encourage people to build that habit of staying in the UK.”

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