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Agents say ‘buzz’ has returned to shops but furlough-end fears remain

Travel agents say the “buzz” is returning to shops but stressed the need for changes to the traffic light system amid continued fears about the end of furlough.

The trade enjoyed further sales with upturns across the lates market and for 2022 holidays last week.

Advantage Travel Partnership members’ sales were up 21% week on week last week, with the past six weeks up 20% on the previous six.

“We saw a good increase,” said leisure director Kelly Cookes. “The pattern on late bookings continues.”

But amid speculation more Caribbean destinations may turn red this week, she warned: “Now the chancellor has confirmed no extension of furlough or sector‑specific support, there needs to be a complete review of the traffic light system.

“Although people can navigate the three-weekly update, it makes it very difficult for travellers and businesses to plan long-term.”

Premier Travel director Paul Waters said an increase in green list destinations would boost “ever-improving” customer confidence.

“Over the last couple of updates we’ve seen an increase in bookings in the few days following an announcement and expect the same this week, providing the news is positive,” he said.

The miniple noted a rise in bookings made within two weeks of departure, although overall departures in September and October remained “significantly down” on 2019.

Winter bookings were “a lot stronger” than 2020 at 60%-70% of 2019 levels, while new 2022 bookings, particularly from March onwards, were “really healthy”. Last week, Premier traded at 68% against the same week in 2019.

Idle Travel director Tony Mann welcomed the return of “some normality and noise” with increased enquiries for last-minute and 2022 holidays.

“The phones have been crazy some days and people have been queueing to come in,” he said. “The buzz has come back.”

But he cautioned: “I don’t want to give a false impression everything is rosy. We are all thinking about the end of furlough and what the winter will bring. If we can get rid of the traffic light system in its current form, that might give us a decent couple of months’ trading.”

Sales reports follow an Abta survey which found almost half of the association’s 4,300 members saw no increase in 2021 bookings on last year despite the vaccine rollout.

About 58% of members’ bookings for July and August 2021 departures were postponed or cancelled, according to the Abta poll.

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