Trade reports strong lates market despite tight availability

Agents are reporting strong late bookings despite as fears grow of increasingly tight availability for the peak summer months.

Many said consumers were waiting until the last minute to book their summer break in case of any late changes in travel rules.

Advantage Travel Partnership reported 42% of bookings through its managed service agents last week were for travel in the next 12 weeks, adding that sales were strong across all sectors, including cruise.

Barrhead Travel said there was already “high demand” for late deals for this summer, which it said was driven in part by awareness that capacity was more limited this year.

President Jacqueline Dobson said: “The next five consecutive months make up our top five departure months for new bookings. I think customers are very aware that availability could be tight which is why we are seeing growing volumes in last-minute bookings.”

Arron Mitchell, director of youth tour operator Syte and Gloucester travel agency Resfeber, anticipated a strong lates market for August despite nervousness among families about booking due to changing advice on vaccination requirements for children, particularly under 12s.

He said: “A lot of families we speak to with children in that age range cite vaccines as a blocker to booking. As we approach August and we see consistency in relaxation of travel restrictions, those families will book, but it will be last minute.”

He said the agency was recommending clients book early for May and October holidays, outside the peak summer months, as availability was declining.

Rising prices were also forcing families to make compromises on departure airports and holiday durations, he said, adding: “They would rather have nine nights on their perfect holiday than 11 or 14 nights in a not so nice hotel or resort. I suspect for August we’ll see some good last minute deals. “

Agents also said there was still no sign of a market slowdown due to rising living costs.

Advantage’s leisure director Kelly Cookes said: “While we are still seeing those late bookings, we will not see the cost of living impact.

“We have got people with future credits and those who already have got bookings on the books. My gut instinct is that it will be summer and autumn before we get a true reflection of the impact of the cost of living rises.”

Dobson said Barrhead’s agents were also enjoying “consistently strong sales” over recent weeks.

“Demand is much more stable than it was six months ago, and we are regularly trading on par or above 2019 levels,” she said. “We know customers are looking for great value for money, but enquiry levels are showing no signs of slowing down. Rather, people are realising that a reputable travel agent is the best place to go to for value and protection.“

Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson agreed: “Sales are coming along quite nicely, not back to normal levels as yet but well on our way. If the demand is there for the summer lates market, which I am fully expecting it to be, then availability will be found without doubt in my opinion.”

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