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Updated: Omicron variant ‘to hit last-minute travel over Christmas’

The emergence of the new Omicron variant coupled with new travel restrictions will inhibit demand for last minute travel over the Christmas period.

The warning came from air ticket data firm ForwardKeys which noted a slowdown in bookings, down to 54% of 2019 pre-pandemic levels in late November.

The downturn was closely correlated with a fresh rise in Covid-19 cases since late October.

This was in contrast to the recovery in air travel which showed “relatively steady growth” from the first quarter of 2021.

The start of the Delta variant sweeping the world from March was the first setback before Omicron was detected.

The study also revealed a shift away from long-haul travel during the pandemic.

This was due to the effective closure of the Asia Pacific region, the increased cost and difficulty of travelling long haul during the pandemic and frequently changing travel regulations.

This disproportionately deterred people from booking long-haul travel, as it is typically booked and planned with much longer lead times.

ForwardKeys insights vice president Olivier Ponti said: “2021 has definitely been a year of travel recovery; but that recovery has been bumpy and patchy, with many established destinations displaced and several tourism-dependent destinations making valiant efforts to retain the patronage of leisure travellers.

“It has also been a tug of war between a strong pent-up demand to travel on the one hand and travel restrictions, imposed by governments to inhibit to the spread of Covid-19 on the other.”

Meanwhile, a poll by Holiday Extras found that bureaucracy and renewed unpredictability of the government’s renewed restrictions is more likely to put people off travelling this winter than concern over catching Covid.

A spokesperson said: “Unpredictable changes to the UK’s travel rules are now three times more of an obstacle to people getting the holidays they need than the virus itself, and what British holidaymakers – and our industry – most needs is to be able to plan a simple holiday without having the rug pulled out from under us.”

 

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