Travel agents have enjoyed a positive start to 2023, with reports of sales topping 2019 and significantly higher average spend.
Firms were encouraged by bookings between Christmas and New Year, claiming the sector continued to defy the odds despite rising prices and cost-of-living concerns.
High levels of marketing activity were credited with boosting mass-market sales, with customers prioritising holidays but budgeting by switching departure date, destination or duration.
A Hays Travel spokeswoman said: “We’ve been pleased to see there is still high demand for holidays in 2023 and beyond.”
Althams Travel’s 31 shops have been “as busy as 2019” while bookings have been “slightly higher”.
Managing director Sandra McAllister said: “So far the signs are good and I’m very optimistic. Really noticeable is the amount of high-value, bucket-list bookings. We’ve seen a high increase in average spend. Long-haul, cruise and family packages are selling well.”
Idle Travel director Tony Mann agreed: “We’ve had crazy-high-revenue bookings. Our advance bookings for 2023 are very healthy; turnover for 2023 departures is nearly two-thirds of the same time in 2019. I’m excited for 2023.”
He said clients were turning to agents to save money on holidays. “We do a lot of mass-market bookings. People will adapt, whether they go for fewer nights or all-inclusive,” he said, adding: “We’ve just saved one client £170 by travelling on Monday instead of the weekend in half-term.”
Advantage Travel Partnership reported bookings up 4% on the same period in 2019, with revenue 31% up. Top destinations include the Canaries, Greece and the US, with 32% of sales for departures within 12 weeks.
Chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes said: “We’ve seen the family mass-market bookings come in as well but so far it’s more varied than at this time of year pre-pandemic.”
Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson was buoyed by strong post-Christmas sales, with clients snapping up “super deals”, but insisted he was not complacent.
“We’ll continue to be on the front foot with marketing,” he said.
Westoe Travel director Graeme Brett said trading was “not much different” to pre-Covid years, adding: “The last thing people will let go of is their holiday or their car. They might not be able to afford a big holiday but they’ll reduce the number of days.
“There are some nice long-haul enquiries. People are waiting until the end of the month for their pay packets.”
‘Consumers willing to accept higher pricing’
InteleTravel said revenue between December 25 and January 3 was 33% up on the same period last year, with average booking values up 32%.
“Word has spread about potential price increases ahead and families are looking to secure availability as quickly as possible,” said UK director Tricia Handley-Hughes. “Despite the economic challenges, it’s clear travel remains high on the agenda and, generally, consumers are willing to accept the higher pricing.”
Fears that strikes by Border Force staff at major UK airports would cause logjams at arrivals and delay flights over the Christmas holiday also proved unfounded, despite media forecasts of “havoc”.
A leading airline source noted government and airport contingency plans “worked brilliantly”, saying: “There was isolated queueing, but we got through successfully.”
However, the strikers’ PCS union leader Mark Serwotka warned of “a huge escalation in January” and the source said: “The industry is caught in the crossfire. The contingency plans can’t become the norm.”