Customers “just want sun” and will travel abroad as soon as restrictions are lifted, say travel agents who report “rocketing” prices for domestic breaks.
Agents speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast agreed customers wanted to get away overseas to seek warmer climes and better value for money.
The Travel Snob’s David Walker said he had Barbados, Antigua and Tenerife bookings that had been cancelled but the customers kept the money with him.
He said he had been instructed: “The minute I can go anywhere, just book it.”
“They just want to go away,” he said. “They just want sun”.
Walker added that customers who are retired typically book longer-duration holidays and “don’t care about quarantine” on return because they are not working. “They just want sunshine,” he reiterated.
He said “fighting to get refunds” has helped his relationships with both his clients and suppliers, adding: “When you offer a refund, it’s easy for that customer to rebook”.
Walker noted it is in the interests of both him and the supplier to get a rebook, and explained that, from a customer point of view: “Knowing they could have a refund makes them feel better about a rebook. If you only give them that one option, that’s when you get the questions.”
He said he booked 88 passengers using a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class deal last November, and while some may not be able to travel this April or May, most have said they will pay the balance and rebook if travel is still restricted.
“I’ve reached out to the supplier to say, ‘what are the options, and given that to the customers’,” he explained. “Not one person has come back and said, ‘I’ll cancel and lose the deposit’. They’ve all said, ‘I’ll pay the balance in the hope that we can rebook if we can’t go on the dates we’ve got’.”
He said it was key for agents to be proactive with clients to offer alternatives before they seek refunds, noting his emails promise ‘no call centre’ and say “I’ve got your back”.
“People want to hear that,” he said. “Everything is being booked on trust.”
Walker said trust also applied to agents’ use of suppliers in the future, noting “we’ve all realised, over the last 10 months, which suppliers we’re going to use more of and which suppliers we’re not going to use again. All of the ones I’m using have certain guarantees.”
Lee Harrison, of Malvern World Travel, agreed customers were seeking a “certain amount of security” and said customers were keen to rebook when the agency had been “fighting for refunds”.
He said customers who had been away to destinations such as Greece, Turkey and Croatia last summer reported it was “safer than back home” and believes they will travel there again if the destinations open up to the British market.
Sue Welsh, who runs home-based agency Ace Travel 2, said: “Some people are so desperate, they want to go on holiday,” and said many were not put off by the high cost of PCR Covid testing.
Welsh said customers were willing to spend “a little bit more money” to go to high-end resorts like Mykonos and Santorini, and have the confidence to book holidays with dates from September onwards.
“Some of my friends and clients have now had the vaccine,” she said, adding that “that’s making a difference to people’s positiveness”.
Addressing uncertainty from potential new variants, she said: “There are changes all the time. There’s an element of the public out there that thinks, ‘I don’t care anymore. I’m going to do what I want to do’.”
Welsh said she would consider selling domestic breaks “on the luxury side”, and has researched options in Cornwall and Padstow. But she pointed out “you’re talking £3,500 for a nice luxury house for the week”.
“People don’t want to do that because they’re not really guaranteed the sun and face a seven-hour drive. The prices here in the UK have rocketed.”
Welsh noted that properties in Cornwall are booked-up for next year, and said the staycation boom was due to holidaymakers “doing what they’re told” in response to government ministers warning against overseas holidays.
Walker said there was interest among his customers for Cornwall last year “when there was little hope of [overseas] summer holidays,” but said: “The only thing available was the stuff that people didn’t want, for a reason.”
He said prices rose to the point that customers were not getting value by booking with him, and he didn’t want to risk his reputation by providing a bad experience because it was all that was available.
“Even if we book through the likes of Hoseasons or Sykes, those owners also [list their properties] on Airbnb,” he pointed out. “People are booking with 100% cancellation [refunds] from Airbnb.”
He said people booking via online sites like Airbnb were “being savvy” and often have multiple places booked because of the flexible cancellation policies, with no intention to go to more than one.
He said summer 2021 sales are “going to be about the last-minute [bookings]”.
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