Budget travellers and families are proving the most hesitant bookers but the cost-of-living crisis is still failing to cause a marked dent in sales, according to the trade.
Travel agents remain upbeat about current trading despite a looming UK recession and fears of further rises in interest rates and inflation.
Most reported a slight downturn in October trading compared with September but said this was in line with normal trading patterns.
Sandra McAllister, managing director of 31-branch Althams Travel, said there had been a “slight slowdown” in new bookings this month, down around 15% on October 2019, while year-on-year October sales were 40% up.
“I think the constant, negative media coverage is frightening some people but not all. It seems to be mainly family bookings that are marginally down with us,” said McAllister, who said the cost-of-living crisis was not causing people to cancel.
Gloucester-based travel agency Resfeber Travel has started to take enquiries for 2024 from clients seeking a budget break.
Director Arron Mitchell predicted clients who had been away on holidays this year may wait until 2024 for their next overseas trip due to the squeeze on household finances.
He said: “We have got a lot of people asking for quite far in the future. At the moment it’s the bottom end of the market coming in to ask about 2024. The high-end are asking about Christmas markets this year.”
Spear Travels group managing director Peter Cookson said that while business had tailed off from August and September levels, it was “pretty much on a par with pre-Covid October levels” with “only a handful of cancellations at balance due date and one or two pushing their holidays forward to 2024.”
But he admitted: “There is uncertainty out there. Some people are holding off committing to booking but we are confident they will in due course.”
He stressed there was “no panic at all as yet”. He said: “Time will tell over the winter but I think January and February will be tough markets if inflation doesn’t start to plateau, or reduce, to give some confidence to the market.”
He noted that long-haul and large, tailormade bookings were not affected by the current uncertainty and clients were still desperate to go on holiday, especially for bucket-list trips.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan credited the agency’s strong sales with the fact its client demographic was less affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
“Sales are continuing to go incredibly well for us,” he said, but added that airlines and operators were responsible for higher than normal cancellation levels.
“A lot of that is driven by operators or airlines consolidating or making changes. There are still a huge number of flight changes,” he said.
Premier Travel reported October sales to be 19% ahead of 2019 with fairly normal cancellation levels. Sales had slowed in the last week but this was to be expected around the school half-term holiday, said managing director Paul Waters.
The Travel Network Group said sales had been “surprisingly stable” in October and recovered to “normal October levels” but chief commercial officer Vim Vithaldas conceded: “We are anticipating a slowdown on the back of increased mortgage and energy costs but this slowdown is not as yet apparent.”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said it was important members stressed the ‘book early’ message to budget-conscious clients.
“As an industry we need to encourage these messages. We are likely to see prices increase next year. We are speaking to members about how to encourage people to book early,” she said.