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Trade reports bookings ‘explosion’ after restrictions update

Tour operators and agents say bookings “exploded” following the government’s announcement on Friday regarding the scrapping of traffic lights and pre-departure Covid testing.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast just days after the transport secretary announced the plan to remove the amber category and the requirement to take a PCR test before returning to the UK, the trade said the changes had “spurred” customers into action.

Jet2holiday head of trade Alan Cross said: “Passenger numbers before the announcement stayed stable this week which is unusual just before an announcement, and since then, it’s exploded.

“And it’s not only that we’ve got Turkey off the red list, it’s been a catalyst for all destinations. In the past three days, Turkey for summer 2021 and winter 2021/22 has been our second top seller. Slightly behind the Canaries, but there’s not much in it.”

Confirming flights to Dalaman and Antalya in Turkey would restart on September 23, with those to Antalya continuing right through the winter, Cross said bookings to Turkey were 250% up.

“As a mass market destination, it’s back there, but it’s been that spur to generate bookings for all seasons and all destinations,” he said.

“It really is very good news. We’re seeing good bookings burst back in again for all seasons and the thing is, for summer 21 it’s essential to get passengers travelling again and building that confidence.”

Gold Medal sales director Nick Hughes said: “When you look at the move of the UAE from red over to amber three weeks ago, we’ve seen a steady incline since then. It’s made a huge impact with regards to departures.

“If we go back the last four to eight weeks, we’ve seen departures for travelling in 2021 as low as 12 to 15%, with the rest predominantly traveling in 2022. And yet last week, since the announcement, 37% of all of our bookings are actually departing in 2021. And for our luxury side of the business, it is actually 43%.”

He added: “That’s completely different from what we’ve seen over the last two, three, four months, and the Indian Ocean and the UAE overall continue to perform really, really strongly for us.

“It’s really positive. We’ve had so many false dawns. We’ve had announcements and we think we’ve taken one or two steps forward. But then a day or a week later, there’s another announcement where we take two or three steps backwards. So for us, I truly feel that this is a step in the right direction. We just need this now to build and get more consistency.”

Amanda Matthews, owner and managing director of Designer Travel, said: “When it’s a traffic light update week, we normally see really dodgy sales. You know, some days are okay, then some days are not, and when the announcement happens, we kind of explode for those few days with the destination changes.”

“Because the positive news started to be dripped out earlier in the week, we had the strongest week we’ve had for months and months and months. We even outperformed 2019.”

She added: “The trends for us didn’t change. They were either very late bookings for 2021, or next year bookings for July and August. Interestingly, top destinations were Turkey – I didn’t expect Turkey to bounce back so quickly, and we’ve got a real mix of Turkey for October half term and for next summer.

“We also had quite a few Maldives bookings but for us, it was more about the bookings we’ve already made for the Maldives for October half-term and for Christmas. We’ve had so many clients texting us with emojis with the big hands, saying “Yay!”, because holidays are on!”

Matthews said: “In some ways, particularly for us as a luxury agent, it’s kind of answered our concern of whether we were going to be able to get our big bookings away for October and Christmas. It was a really positive week.”

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