Travel agents and tour operators say they are pinning their hopes on an expected surge in sales at turn-of-year after giving up all expectations of a winter season.
Despite the ongoing impact of the pandemic and travel ban introduced as part of the second England lockdown, agents said they remained staunchly optimistic about a resurgence in sales early next year.
Advantage Travel Partnership said it would continue to plan promotions for the peak season sales period, traditionally in January, even if they have to be pushed back due to the current crisis.
Leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “The industry is reliant on the injection of cash at peaks and the balances coming in during April and May. It really depends on what happens with the lockdown but if it is lifted in December we will see a wave of people who want to travel imminently and those who are more cautious and want to wait until the second half of 2021.
“If lockdown is extended, then that might push out peaks. We are going to have to be very fluid in our campaigns. We will be ready to go for January but we may not press the button until later. We are definitely seeing people want to travel and more leaning towards using a travel agent.”
Fred Olsen Travel head of commercial Paul Hardwick was more cautious about when sales might pick up, predicting a slower Easter in 2021 but an earlier spike in 2022 sales.
He said: “I think January sales will very much depend on when and how we come out of lockdown. We are still planning to see an upturn in business but to what level will depend on where the country finds itself.
“I think spring will still be slow in terms of people going away but once travel does resume then late spring and summer will see big demand. I think we will also see a much earlier spike in 2022 sales with customers already looking to get booked up to have something to look forward to.”
Deben Travel owner Lee Hunt said: “The thought of business coming back next year is the only thing that is keeping me going.
“I have completely written off the winter season; in my mind it’s Easter we’re aiming for. We have a lot of bookings for Easter and next summer and we’ve been working hard to promote low deposits for summer 2021.”
Agents admitted they were nervous about December, one of the weakest sales months of the year, with some saying it would better for businesses to remain closed in an extended lockdown and then re-open in January.
David McDonald, managing director of World Travel Lounge, said: “For some agents in the position we’re in it would be better if we didn’t open in December. I’m quite positive for January; I’m hoping it will be substantially better than the last seven months.”
Bailey’s Travel managing director Chris Bailey said customers needed a “signal” to give them confidence to book holidays.
He said: “My whole financial model is based on doing nothing until the end of the year and then hopefully in January there will be an end in sight and more information on a vaccine to boost confidence so people feel they can decide to go away in the summer; that’s key to our survival.”
Meanwhile, domestic hotel package operator Great Little Breaks said customers were already amending their bookings December breaks and to early next year.
Chris Cundall, director of trade relations, said: “My nervousness is if the lockdown extends into December. If people have amended their bookings to go in December before Christmas and then we have to cancel again, will they book again?”