Hays Travel has seen a “big uplift” in city break and additional holiday bookings, plus “a very definite desire for people to travel further and to spend more money”, according to its bosses.

Speaking at the Travel Weekly Future of Travel Spring Forum last week, chair Dame Irene Hays, and chief operating officer Jonathon Woodall, said they were also seeing strong demand for domestic UK cruise sailings this summer.

Woodall said: “On the back of easyJet Holidays announcing its cities programme for 2022, we’ve got all these customers that have had their holiday cancelled three or four times, so they’ve already got, say, the summer 2021 or even 2022 sorted.

He explained: “We’ve customers now saying, ‘we’ve already got that booked and it’s paid for’, and they’re going on and booking their second or sometimes third holiday, which is the cities.

“That’s something that we’ve not seen within our business before, but cities has definitely uplifted towards the back end of last week and looking at the figures today, we’re seeing that continue.”

Speaking before “unprecedented demand” for P&O’s UK ‘seacations’ led to the cruise line’s website temporarily being out of action on Monday, Woodall described the UK domestic cruises that various lines are operating this summer as a “huge opportunity” for Hays Travel.

“News around the staycations is definitely something that we’ve welcomed,” he added. “We’ve seen Hoseasons, for example, continue to rock it in terms of volume of sales within our business. However, the supply versus the demand isn’t aligned – there’s just too much demand there.

“As an agent we don’t have many of the operators that specialise in the UK. Since Super Break [went into administration with its parent company Malvern Group, in August 2019], there’s still a gap in the market which I don’t think has definitely been covered yet. So the news around cruise lines doing UK staycations is a huge opportunity [for agents].”

Woodall said increasing the number of cruise sales was part of Hays Travel’s “long-term plan”, adding: “We do a fair size, but there’s still a huge opportunity – and this is a perfect opportunity.”

He said the challenge was that agents are used to selling the destination a cruise ship is sailing to, whereas for the UK domestic sailings, the cruise ship is the destination.

“With the hardware that the ships have got these days, you’re really bringing that to life,” he said. “So we’ve put a lot of focus on that and we’re just really keen to be able to start sharing these itineraries once the cruise lines can share them with us.”

Hays added: “If you go to a UK hotel, you might have one bar, one restaurant, one spa, one gym. But when you go on a cruise ship these days, you’ve got a choice, you’ve probably got a high calibre cabaret, a jazz and piano bar, a quiet bar, you might even have a karaoke bar.

She said: “You’re not likely to find that offered in an hotel in the UK currently. So when we’ve been pitching these cruise staycations in preparation for the announcements coming up. We think they have an awful lot to offer.”

Woodall added that Hays Travel was seeing more forward bookings than ever before and bookings for further out than previously.

“Even pre-pandemic, we did see that our forwards were starting to increase year-on-year,” he confirmed. “However, the pandemic has really changed that. It’s driven a significant increase in the forwards.”

He said some destinations that had never been top sellers had risen to the most booked for Hays Travel during the pandemic, such as the Maldives.

Woodall said: “There’s quite a lot of bucket list-type itineraries we’re seeing at the minute, and again with cruise. You would think that there’s a lot of cruise ships coming to European waters, but we’re still seeing demand for the Far East, Australia and Canada. It’s not your standard product that we’re seeing.

“There’s a very definite desire for people to travel further and to spend more money. So we are seeing an increase in the average transaction value.”