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Agents say bookings catching up with pre-pandemic levels

Sales are catching up with pre-pandemic levels but agents say the UK’s Passenger Locator Form remains a booking barrier.

Travel agents nationwide reported surging sales in the third week of the peak sales period, particularly for February half-term, Easter and summer, across short-haul and long-haul, with further rises expected thanks to the removal of day two on-return Covid tests from February 11.

February was the second most popular departure month for Advantage Travel Partnership bookings last week, with Tenerife and Lanzarote favoured, while a third of current sales were for travel before March 31. Long-haul sales to destinations including the Maldives, Caribbean, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, improved.

Leisure director Kelly Cookes said the removal of day two Covid tests on arrival would eliminate “another layer of cost and uncertainty.”

Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson sales were “picking up nicely”  for summer and lates but stressed Spain’s double-vaccination rule on over 12s remained a “stand out problem”.

Designer Travel reported its best-ever sales week last week, with bookings up 44% on the same week in January 2020.

Managing director Amanda Matthews said: “All our hard work and positive thinking over the last 20 months is paying off.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said holidays for 2022 were “well and truly back on the table” but predicted tight availability in the school holidays as demand grows.

However, sales optimism was tempered by the “complex and lengthy” PLF for return to the UK, despite the transport secretary’s pledge to “simplify” it.

Cookes said the PLF was “another layer of complexity the traveller could do without” and while unlikely to be removed short-term, any simplification would “break down the barriers for those who want to travel but feel it is too complicated to do so”.

Johnson agreed: “It just needs simplifying.”.

Deben Travel owner Lee Hunt, who described sales as “busy” and boosting short term cash flow, said the form was what clients “disliked most”.

He added: “It’s a faff, especially on a mobile phone from resort, as well as time consuming. Clients worry about it.”

Agents who complete PLFs for clients said the task was becoming more onerous as workloads increased.

Pole Travel director Jill Waite, who said her agency’s sales were about 80% of January 2020, said: We have lots of elderly clients without smart phones. We do it for them but it can be a struggle as it takes so much time. It could be two pages instead of 20.”

Tivoli Travel director Jo Richards added: “A lot of people are not booking because they can’t be faffed with the forms.”

She estimated 75% of enquiries were converting into sales. The agency’s Merfield branch has taken more bookings so far in January than the equivalent period in 2020. “People are also now asking where they can go if they are not vaccinated,” she added.

Pole Travel’s sales this month have reached around 80% of January 2020 levels. Director Jill Waite said the promised simplification of the PLF was still needed.

She said: “It could be two pages instead of 20. We have lots of elderly clients without iPhones. We do it for them but it can be a struggle as it takes so much time. I’d welcome it being simplified.”

Travel Designers director Nick Harding-McKay agreed the form’s simplification or removal would “help us all” but said in general sales were “much improved” mainly for straightforward point-to-point sales.

“People are still cautious but hopefully we’re over the worst now,” he added.

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