February sales ‘all over the place’ as family market ‘yet to perform’, says trade

Agents say sales in February have been “all over the place” with some claiming recent reports of record sales are not reflective of the true trading picture.

Most agents reported bookings were still up on last year but blamed the half-term school holiday for a fall in sales last week. Disappointing family sales and a drop in big bookings more generally were attributed to political and geopolitical uncertainty and economic concerns.

Dawson & Sanderson regional manager Donna Jobling said: “It’s not been as consistent as we’ve found in previous peaks, which I believe is the feeling across the industry.” She said the family market had “yet to perform as hoped” in comparison with 2023 despite “good overall trading”.

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Althams Travel agreed February has been “mixed” after an “excellent” January which beat previous records. Managing director Sandra McAllister said the group was now  “tracking level year on year” after trading “up for eight days and down for seven days” this month.

Triangle Travel general manager Sarah Kenton said the booking pattern this year mirrored 2022 when the country was emerging from the Covid pandemic.

She added: “February has been all over the place. Half-term had a real impact on our figures and it is now a mad dash to the finish line to get close to 2023 figures.

“When looking at comparisons, 2024 is mirroring patterns similar to 2022 when we were coming out of the pandemic.”

Spear Travels also reported last week as “significantly quieter”, with booking volumes down 13% on the previous week and 6% on the same week last year while average booking values were down 27% and 24% respectively as a result of more sales with mainstream suppliers.

Natalie Turner, head of retail operations, said the family market appeared to be “struggling”, adding: “Last week was more challenging as it was half-term. Performance was impacted by much lower average booking values.”

TravelTime World director Jackie Steadman also reported a shift to late and value bookings, and said that while volumes remained “slightly up” year on year, bookings had “fallen off a cliff” in the last six weeks after a “fantastic” final three months of 2023.

“The first week of January was fantastic and then slowly, slowly it’s dropped off,” she said, citing “lots of enquiries but awful conversions”.

She added: “There’s no buzz. We’re not getting the big bookers or the family bookings. I think families are worried about mortgages. It’s unsettled times with the situations in Ukraine and Gaza.”

She accused some travel businesses of failing to give the full sales picture, depending on which figures they chose to report.

Bailey’s Travel managing director Chris Bailey said his initial fears about peak sales had not materialised, with £850,000 worth of new business across its two shops since the start of the year.
“We are 30% ahead year on year,” he said. “I am very upbeat. Family bookings are fairly steady but that’s not our core customer base; the older generation is our market.”

Hays Travel, the UK’s largest independent agency, also remained bullish. Head of strategy Lisa McAuley said: “Strong trading has continued across Hays Travel during February, including in the family market where we’ve seen no issues.”

Similarly, in a trading statement last week, Jet2 cited “encouraging” forward bookings. However, the firm cautioned that macroeconomic and geopolitical environments could affect future consumer spend.

More: Access your free copy of the Travel Weekly Insight Report 2024


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