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Published on Friday, November 27, 2020

Glimmer of hope for operators as cut-price deals drive bookings upturn

Operators and airlines have released a fresh wave of cut price deals as hopes rise that consumer confidence may slowly be returning.

While the immediate picture remains bleak - much of the winter market has been written off - a rush of Black Market offers, coupled with vaccine developments, a reduced quarantine period and news that consumers even in the harshest of post-lockdown tiers can travel overseas, has given consumers and operators a lift.

Wendy Wu Tours, Virgin Atlantic Holidays, Newmarket Holidays, Icelandair, Cathay Pacific and Ryanair have become the latest to release Black Friday offers, following the raft of deals launched on Monday from TUI, On the Beach, EasyJet Holidays, Virgin Atlantic and others.

Operators hope the introduction of cut price packages and flights, at a time when consumer morale is showing sign of improving, will clinch sales.  

Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides said 45% of its 2021 summer programme has been sold, four months earlier than usual. Although many of the bookings are deferrals from 2020, the outlook was improving he said.

"The exercise for all of us is to get through to the end of February or March when final balances begin to come in. That's what we all have to do, certainly for summer operators," Josephides said.

"We have sold 45% of our summer 2021 programme and I'm sure many summer operators are in much the same position because a lot of these bookings were deferred bookings."

But he warned that operators, and the wider industry, was far from out of the woods.

"In the short term you can't sell anything. Where are you going to send them? There's nowhere to go," he said. "Now they are going to shut down the ski resorts, so it goes from bad to worse.

"The main aim is to hold on until those final balances come in for summer 2021 bookings, so we can get in some cash."

Josephides said late summer and heading into autumn was looking strong, with May and June weaker.

"May and June are likely to be more last minute, but it depends what happens after Christmas. If we see vaccinations start before the end of the year it will give courage and confidence to everyone. And it's going to be older people who get the vaccination first, and our market is predominantly that older market. It will give them confidence to travel."

On the Beach also reported gathering momentum. The online retailer said the first three days of its Black Friday offers this week saw sales climb more than a quarter from the previous week.

The Canaries and mainland Spain were the most popular, taking 27% and 19% share of bookings, followed by the Balearics (17%), Greece (13%) and Turkey (7%).

Data revealed that more than a quarter of bookings were for May.

On the Beach said it expects the trend to continue into January, but warned that consumers were still grappling with several Covid issues.

"There is always appetite for booking holidays in January as people plan for the year ahead," spokesperson said. "This year, that longing for a holiday to look forward to will be stronger than ever, and while we do expect to see bookings pick up in the New Year, there are still lots of factors for people to consider as we navigate the pandemic.

"We therefore expect customer booking confidence to build modestly from January."

Travel Republic, which launched its Black Friday offers yesterday, said the addition of the UAE to the travel corridor earlier this month triggered an immediate surge of interest.

Overall traffic to the website saw triple-digit growth, the retailer said, with Dubai of particular interest to consumers with a three-fold increase in page views. 

"Bookings spiked a similar amount, compared to the same time a week prior," the company said. "That's continued since the announcement, and there is still a lot of interest in packages for departure in December 2020 - 47% of the bookings taken so far have been for that month - and the first half of 2021, driven by the many exclusive deals we have."

Travel Republic said it saw the increase as a 'strong indication of a returning confidence among consumers'.

"The first real test of which is the Black Friday sale this weekend. Our seven-day flash sale started today," it said. "We're cautiously optimistic. It's obvious that there's a lot of demand out there and that Brits are desperate for something to look forward to."

Searches for flights and holidays on day one of easyJet's sale surged 200%, the airline-operator reported.

"The response from our customers in just the first day goes to show how much people want to get away and have something to look forward to," easyJet Holidays Chief Executive Garry Wilson said.

Tui said it was unable to share bookings data as it was in a closed period.

Escorted tour specialists Newmarket Holidays claimed Black Friday sales will "fuel the recent upward trend".

Head of Trade Sales Richard Forde said: "We have seen an increase in web traffic and the number of enquiries over the last few weeks. This week, we are starting to see the results in the form of increased bookings, particularly for the likes of Lapland and late 2021 and 2022.

"We are optimistic this extra discount will really help agents get those bookings over the line, especially in light of the recent vaccination developments."

Wendy Wu Tours released a four-day offer including lounge access and free flights.

Global Sales Director John Warr said: "With news of the imminent vaccines on the horizon, 2021 and 2022 is all about getting back into travel and enjoying all the amazing experiences and cultures our world has to offer."

Virgin Atlantic described demand this week as 'healthy', with December and January departures selling well.

"There is appetite for customers to get away once lockdown ends. Best performing routes include the Caribbean and Cape Town which is launching on 20 December," the airline said.

Virgin Atlantic Holidays has launched its Black Friday offers today, with 10% off over the weekend for all package bookings.

By Steve Jones, Contributing Editor (UK)

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