Covid uncertainty will dampen January sales

Agents and operators will see slower sales in January than normal as consumers remain cautious about booking holidays, according to speakers at the Specialist Travel Association (Aito) conference today (December 15).

Martin Alcock, Travel Trade Consultancy director, said booking curves usually show a spike in the turn-of-year peak sales period but this year it will be quieter.

“Customers will delay making decisions because of uncertainty,” he said.

“We will see a stepped profile as customers react to events and news: countries added or taken off the corridors list or bumps with the vaccination rollout; it’s going in fits and starts.”

Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides said: “I don’t think January will be particularly dramatic…with uncertainty over air corridors and FCDO advice.

“For operators, it’s a matter of having the cash to get through.”

His colleague Matt Purser, TTC director, said: “Test-to-release helps, as everyone is desperate to travel – people see it’s not much of a health risk to go abroad seeing the levels in the UK.

“What is putting people off is the constant changing of travel corridors –  we don’t want to quarantine when we come back.

“There’s a risk in terms of travel corridors constantly changing; lack of consistency is the problem.

“By autumn we will see the benefits of vaccines. It will be difficult in January, and be a later late market.”

Dale Keller, chief executive at the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), said the impact of London moving into Tier 3 was “pretty devastating” as people are advised not to travel beyond that tier.

“We have had a lacklustre restart so far, a few things are coming together but the alignment is not optimal,” he said.

“We need confidence for booking travel in the spring and summer. Travelling in two weeks’ time is not looking great.”

The BBC’s health editor, Hugh Pym, said the vaccination programme will help reduce pressure on the NHS as spring approaches but added: “The virus is still around – it won’t vanish, so for rest of 2021 or until autumn we will have some form of restriction affecting our ability to mix in indoor venues.

“This summer, from July to the end of September, for UK and European tourism there was enough [freedom] for people to have holidays but don’t think from spring [2021] there is a magic bullet that deals with everything.”

He forecast that the travel market next summer may be “restrained” and similar to late summer 2020.

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