Agencies predict payday boost for family bookings amid slight sales dip

Travel firms saw sales dip slightly last week as families continued to hold off booking.

But agents and operators said bookings remained higher than the same week last year and predicted pay day would spur families to book at the end of the month or in February.

The Advantage Travel Partnership said the slight decrease in sales last week compared with the previous two weeks reflected a similar pattern in January 2023, when bookings recovered in the fourth week.

Despite the dip, sales of the consortium’s members last week were 9% up on the same week last year, and 21% up on revenues.

More: Cruise agents hail new-to-cruise demand for driving record sales

Chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes said: “Bookings for July and August are increasing but are still not at the levels we are seeing for the shoulder summer months so it does seem to be the family [market] that is not booking in large volumes yet.”

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said the chain enjoyed a strong Saturday despite “patchy” sales in the week.

“It’s classic January. Everyone is chasing high volumes. It’s a long month of high expectations,” he said.

Fred Olsen Travel reported a record week for the business overall, helped by strong sales through its tour operation Fred Holidays, despite a similar decrease in bookings.

Retail director Paul Hardwick noted: “Sales in the shops were down slightly on week two [of January] but 11% up on the same week last year.”

Sales of cruise holidays, the Mediterranean and long-haul, particularly Australia, the Indian Ocean and the US, were among the strong sellers, he added

Althams Travel’s sales last week were 12% up, although Saturday failed to top the previous two Saturdays, its busiest days of the month so far.

Family bookings were also picking up for the agency, said managing director Sandra McAllister.

“We are seeing family bookings now almost on a par with last year, and cumulatively just marginally down,” she said. Families made up 30% of beach package sales last week, above the group’s 27% average.

Barrhead Travel said the challenging weather conditions had failed to dent sales, with a third record-breaking sales day so far this month on Saturday, January 20, trumping the previous two record Saturdays, and Sunday enjoying strong sales via social media and its homeworking teams.

Summer 2024 is the firm’s top booking season with the most popular destinations including Tenerife, Majorca, Barbados, Lanzarote, and cruising from Southampton.

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said: “Adverse weather conditions can be both a curse and a blessing. At the beginning of the week, we noticed footfall was a little slower on some high streets because of the severe ice and clients were opting to stay at home.

“However, what the weather this week has also brought is an increased desire from people to firm up the holiday plans that they’ve been thinking about and escape the cold.

“The weekend brought a rush of interest for summer bookings as well as continued interest in last minute escapes which are still accounting for around 20% of the business.

“With payday on the horizon, we’re predicting a busy weekend with a real buzz across our network.”

Independent Travel Experts’ sales exceeded expectations, with volumes up 18% on the previous week, but family bookings have not risen and instead have levelled off at around 21% of sales. Managing director Gary Gillespie said: “The general consensus among our homeworkers is customers are shopping around more and conversion has been more hard work.”

Stephanie Slark, director of membership services at The Travel Network Group, urged firms to analyse performance based on the whole month rather than on record days or weeks. “This will be different for individual businesses depending on location and customer demographic,” she said.

Natasha Marson easyJet holidays head of distribution was optimistic that pay day would reap rewards for the trade. “This pay day weekend and February, there will be more commitment to spending,” she said, while also predicting a second peak and a big lates market.

In the ski market, firms continued to credit “incredible” weather conditions for driving strong demand for late sales and forward bookings.

Philip Wright, head of sales and service at Iglu Ski, encouraged agents to secure late bookings to avoid compromising on airport, resort and accommodation due to limited availability in February half-term and Easter. “There are still some holidays left, but they’re selling fast,” he said.

Ski Solutions chief executive Craig Burton anticipated bookings made in November, December and January would be up 25% year on year. “We’ve seen a number of clients return from Christmas and New Year [holidays] looking to book again for this season and next season,” he said.

Sno founder Richard Sinclair predicted a long season. “Expect some of the best T-shirt skiing of your life this Easter,” he said.

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