Growth in Atol packages suggests increase in trade’s market share

Atol-protected bookings hit a record level in the first full year of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and have continued growing since, suggesting the trade has enlarged its share of the outbound market.

Travel restrictions were lifted in March 2022 and Atol bookings in the 12 months to March 2023 hit 26.63 million, according to the Air Travel Trust (ATT) report for the period issued last week.

That was up on the 25.9 million Atol-protected bookings in the 12 months to March 2020, which included the pre-pandemic summer of 2019. It was also above the 26.28 million in the 12 months to March 2019 and the 25.2 million to March 2018.

Atol bookings have continued rising since last March with additional capacity added for summer 2023, suggesting the 12 months to this March will set a new record, while the September 2023 licence renewals saw Atol authorisations hit 31.6 million, putting a new record in sight for the 12 months from April.

Yet this increase in Atol-protected package bookings does not reflect an overall rise in post-pandemic air capacity. On the contrary, airline capacity remained below the 2019 level last year and is forecast only to match pre-pandemic levels by this summer.

European air traffic in 2023 reached 92% of 2019’s level, according to air traffic navigation body Eurocontrol, and is forecast to reach 98% this year. Airports association ACI Europe reported passenger numbers last year remained 5% down on 2019 and UK numbers 6% down despite the strong recovery.

The ATT report showed Atol Protection Contribution (APC) payments on bookings topped £65.8 million in the year to last March, also a record.

Association of Atol Companies legal advisor Alan Bowen hailed the figures, saying: “It shows Atol bookings are very much in favour.”

Consumer research for the latest Travel Weekly Insight Report, produced in partnership with Deloitte, suggests no let-up in outbound travel demand this year.

The survey of 1,279 UK adults in early December found half (51%) intending to book a holiday abroad this year, up eight percentage points year on year. Two-thirds (66%) of 25-44-year-olds said they intend to take an overseas holiday – a double‑digit increase year on year – and 70% of those with children, up 19 percentage points.

More than half (54%) of those intending to travel expected to spend more this year than last, and another third (35%) to spend the same, with more than two-thirds aged 25-44 and/or with children expecting to spend more.

However, three-quarters (76%) said the cost of living could impact on their holiday decisions and half (49%) cited the cost of holidays as a factor. Almost three out of five (57%) intending to have an overseas holiday, and three-quarters (77%) of those with children, said they were likely to book all-inclusive.

Three in four of those ‘very likely’ to travel (77%) said they aim to travel outside peak season. Two-thirds (68%) said they would seek cheaper flights or travel options, and more than half cheaper accommodation. Just under half aimed to reduce the number of nights away.

More: Travel Weekly Insight Report 2024, download your free copy here

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