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Travel Counsellors boss ‘significantly encouraged’ by bookings upturn

The boss of Travel Counsellors has described timescales outlined in the prime minister’s lockdown roadmap as “a positive move” and said the agency saw a “significantly encouraging” boost in business following the announcement.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, chief executive Steve Byrne, said: “Going into the pandemic, we were one of the largest independent travel businesses in the country with turnover that would have been approximately £657 million.

“Obviously we didn’t do that with what happened, sadly. But we saw our leisure market up to about 75% of prior year [on February 22] on a new bookings basis. So that is significantly encouraging for us.”

Byrne said the prime minister’s roadmap timelines were particularly welcome given that “some announcements leading up to this were completely unhelpful to customers, and everyone in the industry”.

He added: “I think what the government have done is bought themselves some time only to see how the vaccination programme rolls out and the impact on the health side of data, but also to work with the relevant bodies to hopefully get to a position whereby we can orchestrate a travel pass or some type of electronic documentation and recording of people’s fitness to travel, either through vaccination or, or testing.”

Byrne said travel’s inclusion in the statement had triggered an immediate reaction from customers.

“To get some type of roadmap [for travel] mentioned on the announcement was great news and it’s really interesting for all of us how our consumers and customers respond, because it gives us a huge amount of confidence for the future,” he said.

“When you’re speaking to different travel businesses about their sales, there will be different components to it and each component is important. There’s the new business that they’ve done, the business that they’ve rebooked and then there’s cancellations.

“Each of those elements is critical and in terms of giving ourselves confidence about what the announcement might mean, the critical one is the new booking.”

Byrne admitted he was slightly surprised by how strong demand had been.

“It was probably a bit more than we would have expected because this is customers reacting to an opportunity. But we saw that towards the second half of last year,” he said.

“In November and December, even though then we were still very much operating in a mixed sort of world with travel corridors, we saw the business on the leisure side bounce back pretty strongly.

“[We need to] carry on exercising our duty of care to customers and advising them appropriately and properly and giving them good solid advice. People are booking in a way where they know their money is protected, and they’ve got flexible booking terms. It’s encouraging and good for everyone in the industry.”

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