Trade predicts strong lates market but warns keen pricing ‘will be crucial’

Major trade players are confident of strong lates sales for this summer despite signs pricing could be crucial as families hold out for bargains.

Sustained strong demand would help maintain holiday prices and avoid a discounting war in lates.
Hays Travel owner Dame Irene Hays told Travel Weekly demand for holidays, combined with extra capacity, bodes well for a strong lates season this year.

But she also struck a note of caution, pointing to consumer money worries and expectations of price drops closer to departure. She said February sales had been “much less consistent” than January, with clients considering a “significantly” shorter booking window.

“There is clear evidence many customers are now choosing to hold on to their money until six to eight weeks before departure. This appears to be a combination of uncertainty about funds and hope there may be bargains ahead,” she said.

Nevertheless, she insisted: “We are confident customers still want to travel and this, combined with significant additional capacity in the market, augurs well for a strong year for lates.”

EasyJet holidays chief executive Garry Wilson was more upbeat, expecting bookings to mirror the pattern of recent years in which peak sales have started earlier than traditionally and continued beyond January, followed by a strong lates market post-Easter.

Citing a “really strong” January and February and healthy late‑booking demand, he said: “This gives us great confidence there is still a lot of demand for the summer. We expect this to continue.”

But independent agency groups warned that competitive pricing would be vital to attract the large portion of families yet to book, with The Travel Network Group director Vim Vithaldas suggesting discounting would be “crucial”.

Vithaldas said conversion rates among families had been lower than in previous years due to increased average booking value.

“In a lot of these instances, we fully expect these families to consider booking their summer 2024 break in the lates market,” he said, but stressed: “The success in converting lates enquiries will be entirely dependent on price. Discounting or incentives will be a crucial factor.”

Advantage chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes agreed late bookers were likely to be “more price‑sensitive”.

“The lower-end family market is still slow so there is opportunity here if the pricing in lates fits,” she said, but cautioned: “While bookings and revenue continue to outperform last year, we are hearing conversion is harder than earlier in the year.”

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan cited the need for demand to match this year’s capacity growth, while Fred Olsen Travel director of retail Paul Hardwick conceded this created a “potential” to discount outside peak season.

“I am hopeful that as demand is still so strong, prices will not be discounted heavily,” he added.
Other agents were confident consumers would pay higher prices.

Sandra Corkin, managing director at Oasis Travel, said many families appeared to be waiting later to book, but stressed: “Most people know they will need a bit of a bigger budget than last year.”

Sutton Travel managing director Andy Tomlinson agreed: “People understand the price rises. There’s no reason why it [strong sales] won’t be replicated in lates.”

Greenstar Travel owner Martyn Fisher added: “I don’t think there is a cat in hell’s chance of prices coming down because of the flight prices.”

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