Leading tour operators remain confident despite headwinds

The bosses of the three leading UK tour operators remain confident 2024 will be a bumper year despite several hurdles threatening to derail the sector’s recovery.

Speaking at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Conference 2023, the heads of Jet2, Tui and easyJet holidays shared their delight at this summer’s performance and said they expect robust sales to continue throughout next year.

Jet2 and Tui will run their biggest ever programmes in summer 2024 after announcing significant capacity expansions, while easyJet holidays recently outlined major growth ambitions after hailing a doubling of its passenger numbers in 2023 compared to last year.

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But Jet2 chief executive Steve Heapy stressed there has to be a focus on quality over quantity to repair “reputational debt” incurred by the industry in recent years.

“What’s most important is that the customer has a great experience,” he said. “Customers have had a tough time of it over the past few years and some companies have treated their customers terribly. We’ve got a lot of reputational debt to make up as an industry.

“There needs to be a focus on quality from trustworthy companies rather than an all-out movement to try and get as many customers as possible.”

Heapy said “you never know” if increasing capacity is the right thing to do until October 31 [the end of the summer season] but that the company is “feeling confident”.

Tui UK & Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham said the company is not targeting expansion in one specific product or destination for 2024, but instead aiming for growth across its network to capitalise on the “positive upward trend” across the sector.

“We’ve added capacity pretty much everywhere,” he told attendees. “We haven’t got particular pinpoints where we’re hoping something will work, it’s quite broadly spread out across the whole network.”

He added: “As Steve said, you never really know if it [adding capacity] will work out until the end of the season – although you do get a good indication by the end of January – but the sustained late demand we’ve seen and the positive research suggests it will.

“We hope the additional capacity will be matched by the demand that customers are going to come through with; we want to fulfil the maximum we can achieve in the marketplace.”

EasyJet holidays chief executive Garry Wilson also shared a bright outlook for 2024, after revealing the company has grown at a quicker rate than he expected since the operator started selling to agents in August 2020.

“We’re seeing through searches and research, and through what agents are telling us, that the demand is still there; customers are still wanting to go on holiday next year,” he said.

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