Revival of US market hindered by high exchange rates and costs

High exchange rates and costs continue to stall the recovery of the US market but operators remain upbeat about future trading.

Booking volumes for this year have generally been described as greater than last year, though they still lag behind pre-pandemic figures.

Summing up the US market’s performance, USAirtours founder and chief executive Guy Novik said: “It’s not been overly exciting but at least it’s positive.”

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He said USAirtours was expecting to finish its financial year with departures up 6% compared with 2023, with average sales values 23% above pre-pandemic levels.

High-demand trips include Florida, California fly-drives and fly-cruises, he said, calling the cruise sector “the rising star of travel”.

Novik noted the cost of US holidays had increased “substantially” because of factors including inflation and a “buoyant US domestic market”.

“The squeeze on capacity is affecting prices,” he said, adding: “The good news is we’ve not seen any discounting in the market for long‑haul. Everyone seems to be holding their nerve.”

Ocean Holidays co-chief executive Harry Hastings described Florida bookings for 2025 as “really, really strong”, adding that “departures for this year are 30% up on the same time last year.” He also said that prices had surged in the past five years.
“The average booking value for us has increased 40% from 2019 to 2024 and this looks to remain elevated,” he said.

Yet he warned that the US market was “still in recovery”, saying: “It’s often forgotten that the US was one of the last countries to open borders and remove Covid restrictions. They kept them in place as late as May 2023.”

Olly Brendon, founder and chief executive of Do Something Different and Attraction Tickets, said the US market was a “bit of a struggle” but it had improved by 5% on last year.

“I think the market to Orlando is around 80% of pre-Covid,” he said, pointing to challenges including inflation and the exchange rate.

“The reality is that it’s expensive,” he said, adding: “The traditional family market has been a bit squeezed for Orlando.”
Both Brendon and Hastings highlighted the Universal Epic Universe theme park’s scheduled opening in Orlando next year as a driver of interest, with Brendon adding he was“optimistic” about 2025 and 2026.

Lynsey Wilce, a personal travel expert at Kuoni’s store in Milton Keynes, said US bookings had “definitely picked up”. Popular trips include drives down the West Coast and visits to national parks, she said.

Lisa McAuley, Hays Travel strategy director, said: “We are seeing strong interest and sales for USA, including the gateway destinations of New York, Las Vegas, Florida and California, as well as for destinations popular with customers who are visiting for their second of third time and looking for new and different experiences.

“In part these are the result of multi-channel partner campaigns, which are inclusive of agent training and consumer marketing.

“Air fares are certainly higher, particularly for premium cabins, and the exchange rate is making eating and drinking expensive for customers visiting the US, in comparison to other key destinations.”

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