Richard Forde, head of trade sales at Newmarket Holidays, says customers are eager to book long-haul tours
As turbulent as 2021 was for travel, short-haul and locally-based tours saw a significant rise in sales throughout the year.
The ongoing demand for these programmes served as a lifeline for many travel operators, who otherwise would have struggled to stay afloat.
Several Atas members either launched domestic touring programmes to capitalise on this demand or had UK programmes already part of their portfolio.
In fact, Newmarket Holidays’ established UK programme, as well as our popular Lapland day trips, contributed to a successful operation of holidays for almost 8,000 customers, marking a major milestone in our recovery.
This UK programme – which has been running for more than 30 years and puts us in a fortunate position of being able to operate relatively normally – was the biggest factor in enabling holidays for our customers in 2021, accounting for more than 60% of our passengers last year.
Newmarket Holidays’ family-favourite Lapland day trips in December operated as normal in 2021 and accounted for more than 25% of passengers last year.
Between the changing of various travel rules and testing requirements during 2021, we, like other Atas members, were still able to operate to certain European destinations – a great accomplishment during what was such a tricky year operationally for the industry.
Towards the end of 2021, the removal of certain travel restrictions meant that after 18 months, many tours operators like us could finally resume long-haul flights to destinations such as Canada and the US, with itineraries travelling throughout both countries.
The spread of Omicron and the re-introduction of the red list led to a brief travel halt, but as cases have fallen, more long-haul tours to places such as Costa Rica in Central America have been able to depart this January.
Looking ahead to 2022, we expect many tour operators to be much stronger, and predict our UK programme to remain popular but account for a much smaller percentage of our business.
The past couple of weeks have been full of positive news for the travel industry, so we expect this year to be much closer to what we were seeing in 2019.
The possible removal of all travel testing requirements at the end of January could really be a cause for celebration as an industry and will allow us to help customers reconnect with the world again.
A rise in bookings also shows that customers are now proving eager to make up for lost time and take their long-held travel off pause.
Short-haul bookings are still up there, but long-haul departures are following suit and should hopefully continue to do so.
Overall, we’re starting this year confidently as, like many other tour operators and agents, we’ve accumulated a large bank of forward bookings for 2022 and beyond.
This factor tied in with the slashing of travel testing means that 2022 could be even more of a success for the travel industry. Fingers crossed!