The trade is optimistic about January sales despite predictions business could be less than half the usual levels and that summer could be an “ultra-late” market.

Industry veteran Steve Endacott said he anticipates peaks will be 30% to 40% of traditional levels because of uncertainty over the speed and rollout of low-cost Covid testing.

But agents and operators said a recent pick-up in demand had given them strong grounds for hope that a greater number of people would book in January.

Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews said: “Even if it’s not level with the previous year, I feel it will be better than [Endacott’s prediction].” She said a shorter quarantine period and faster testing could see demand “ramp up sooner than many think”.

The Travel Network Group said members’ clients were in the “fact-finding stage” and planned to book “soon”. A spokeswoman said: “We are hopeful this will be in January.”

But domestic operator Great Little Breaks forecast a “slow start” to January. Director of trade relations Chris Cundall said the “bounce” would come with more insight of “when things may be back to normal.”

Endacott warned firms to adapt January campaigns with “measure and react fast” policies based on demand.

He suggested the older market could be the fastest to return after receiving the vaccine first, while the family sector, which normally accounts for 60% of peaks sales, may be reluctant because of testing costs.

Matthews agreed firms needed to be “nimble, flexible and prepared to go with whatever sector of the market is booking” but said Designer Travel was already seeing a “good mix of adults and families” booking and a rise in long-haul sales.

Debbie Goffin, sales and marketing director at Premier Holidays, said its peaks plan was flexible based on agents’ needs, with demand polarised between late bookers and those booking a long way out.

She said: “We have a plan for peaks that’s flexible depending on customer appetite in the new year and agents’ needs. “

She predicted an increasing number of long lead-in times due to the company’s focus on long-haul destinations, but anticipated closer-to-home options offered by Premier, including the Isles of Scilly and Jersey, to continue to be popular in 2021.

Barrhead Travel said January would “not be the same this year for any business in the travel industry” but that price would be key, particularly for families.

President Jacqueline Dobson said the lates market was likely to be “the most popular option” for bookings for next summer once clients were able to make “an informed decision” on travel.

“We will be preparing for a peaks of some sort and we will be ready to react to the market throughout the course of January,” said Dobson. “We need to plan for all scenarios. Businesses should have contingencies in place for marketing and resource as well as being able to flex and adapt. The role of the travel agent will be more important than ever.

Endacott predicted flight capacity would “return rapidly for summer 2021” as demand increases, creating an “ultra-late” market, but he believes it will only return to around 70% of 2019 levels.