Trade reports spike in last-minute sales after traffic light update

The trade has reported a spike in last-minute sales for August following the latest traffic light update and growing optimism across the sector.

Retailers said bookings steadily increased in recent weeks but surged immediately after the government’s international travel announcement on August 4.

But agents cautioned that with just weeks left of the holiday period it was too late to save summer, warning there were “still a lot of hurdles” in coming months.

Since Sunday, arrivals from France have not had to quarantine if fully-vaccinated and seven European countries joined the green list. Spain remained amber and the UAE and India and switched from red to amber. The next change will not be until August 26.

Hays Travel reported a “significant uplift” in sales after the update, with more than 50% of current bookings now for 2021, with “the vast majority” for August and Spain and Greece most popular for families and Dubai and the Indian Ocean also selling well.

Jonathon Woodall, chief operating officer, attributed the rise to increased airline capacity, “fantastic” value, and growing consumer confidence.

He reported a “high number” of customers “booking on the spot”. “Many customers are hearing from friends and family returning from holiday and sharing their positive experiences,” he said. “There is certainly a race to book a holiday before the end of the school holidays.”

August was the top departure month for sales by Advantage Travel Partnership members last week, with 28% of all bookings for departures this month, and a further 20% for September. The Canaries, Balearics and Greece were most popular, but Dubai was also up.

Sales rose almost 30% the day after the announcement,  indicating clients were “waiting for it before booking”, said leisure director Kelly Cookes.

She said positivity and confidence were growing, but stressed bookings remained “a small portion of pre-pandemic levels” and attributed the upturn to clients booking to return in the three-week window between government reviews.

“It is too late to see any real upturn for the summer. Scottish school holidays finish this week and most people have plans. The confusing traffic light list and testing policies have damaged the summer beyond repair.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson agreed, calling for “continued stability over the coming weeks and months” while Premier Travel noted revenues were 30% to 40% lower than normal for late sales despite a “positive” upturn.

Travel Counsellors said bookings were now coming in for mid- and long-haul destinations. UK managing director Kirsten Hughes reported “short lead-times from enquiry to departure” and “big future bookings, to long-haul destinations such as New Zealand and the US”.

The day after the announcement, Dubai became the group’s most enquired about destination, with enquiries up 41% on the previous week. Gross sales for August departures were 94% up week on week.

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan recently told a Travel Weekly webcast public sentiment had changed, with consumers now wanting “to get on with their lives”. He said: “We are in the best position since this thing started.”

However, a snap Tipto poll of 77 agents last week found 88% did not think current sales levels were enough to sustain them through the winter. Only 9% believed they could survive on current trading without extra government help while 66% did not feel confident about trading over the next six months.

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