Travel agents report most ‘positive’ market in months

Travel agents say they are the most positive they have been in months following news the UK’s Covid restrictions could end this month and travel requirements reduce for amber destinations.

While some said the announcement to end lockdown fully on July 19 had fuelled more enquiries, most said they still needed more clarity for this summer before they could expect any significant bookings boost.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to give an update later this week on when the government plans to remove self-isolation requirements for arrivals from amber list destinations.

Premier Travel director Paul Waters said: “The expected lifting of Coronavirus rules on July 19 is a positive. This will start to change more people’s mindsets and I believe give more people the confidence to start booking holidays again.”

But he stressed there was a “bumpy road ahead” and a need for “a clear update” on the lifting of travel restrictions, expected this week, before the industry “can look forward to a promising uplift in sales and departures.”

Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson agreed, adding: “I am certainly more hopeful than I have been for a long time and we will need to see what [transport secretary] Grant Shapps announces in terms of testing and quarantine. We need to have a uniformed approach for entry requirements into Europe and hopefully they will announce that.”

World Travel Lounge managing director David McDonald said most new bookings were for September onwards, with this summer’s success dependant on the government’s decision on amber destinations.

He said: “People are holding out for the announcement by Shapps on amber quarantine. Depending on test requirements, this could be phenomenal. It could drive bookings in; we have never been so positive.”

Advantage Travel Partnership said a pick-up in enquiries had been noticeable last week with a strong spike in demand among members’ clients for July departures, with the Balearics the most popular choice. Overall, 60% of bookings made by members last week were for this year.

Leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “Overall I think the news [on easing Covid restrictions] is making people feel more positive but clearly we still have a long way to go with international travel.

“The expected announcement this week [on amber travel] needs to contain some clarity on vaccinated individuals but also a longer term plan for reopening international travel and some support for the industry while this happens.”

Yvonne Hobden, head of product and retail marketing, at Flight Centre, said consumer confidence was returning. She said: “It’s been a long time coming, but at last we’re noticing public confidence in international travel is consistently building.”

July 5, the day of the government’s announcement, was Flight Centre’s busiest day so far this year. Last week total enquiries were up by 19% compared with the same week a month ago (May 31 to June 6).

The Holiday Village managing director Paula Nuttall also reported a “much more positive week for sales”, but said most late bookings were for green destinations. “I am sure there will be an influx of demand and bookings once we have more clarity regards to amber destinations,” she said.

Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, insisted demand was building. July 4 was the group’s busiest day in 17 weeks and its second busiest this year, with 75% of all bookings on the day for this summer.

“The market is buoyant and customers are positive. Any further announcements made by the government will be huge boosts to the industry as the floodgates gradually open,” he added.

However, some agents said they had seen little change following the government’s announcement.

C The World director Carolyn Park said some clients had decided to amend instead of travel because they felt the lifting of restrictions would increase the risk of catching Covid.

She said: “Since Boris’ announcement I’ve had two lots of clients want to shift their holidays from this year to next. They are worried about testing positive in resort and either don’t want to stay in a government quarantine hotel or cannot afford to come back later. One has livestock that needs looking after. They all said they didn’t want to take the risk of testing positive.”

Park said the agency chain was now “down to seven departures in August” with many clients not wanting the “stress and administration” involved in travelling abroad. “With balances now due for September, even September bookings are moving to November onwards,” she added.

Sunny Heart Travel chief executive Steve Bentzen said the government’s Freedom Day announcement had not had “any significant impact” on sales but was hopeful that making amber destinations more accessible would give clients more choice and help hoteliers desperate for Brits to return.

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