Escape to the sun
In the middle of one of the worst summers on record, Irish holidaymakers are flocking to travel agents and online sites to bag themselves a sun holiday
Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30
Cliff Richard was right - we are all on going on a summer holiday, if new figures were anything to go by this week.
As the country weathers one of the worst summers on record- according to Met Éireann - a staggering 350,000 people, almost 8pc of the population, escaped to sunnier climes through Dublin airport last weekend alone.
With the unseasonal conditions set to continue into this week, one travel agent told Review it's even been forced to hire extra staff in order to cope with the sudden surge in sodden staycationers seeking a last-ditch hit of vitamin D.
"Normally in this industry, you would recruit at the start of the summer," says Paul Hackett of clickandgo.com. "This week alone we made two job offers.
"Last bank holiday Monday was our busiest day for online bookings all year; the previous Monday was our busiest day ever on the website; and the Monday before that was our busiest day ever on the phones.
"I keep expecting this blip to be a blip," he adds, "but it isn't. There's a phenomenally strong lates market this year, and it's showing no signs of quieting down.
"The weather is playing its part, for sure. Our most recent stats show that almost 40pc of bookings made in July were for travel in August.
"When you can jet off to somewhere like Barcelona for a few days of guaranteed sunshine for €200, why would you stay at home?"
Earlier this year, as around 60,000 sunseekers flocked to the capital for the annual Holiday World Show at the RDS, we reported how tour operators here were gearing up for their busiest summer in years as the economic recovery continued.
But even 'Sunshine Saturday' - the nickname given to the second Saturday of the year when advance sales of summer holidays typically spike - has just been outshone by the wash-out bank holiday weekend in terms of bookings, industry insiders say.
"Every Monday, I do a sort of cross-check [of figures] from different parts of the country," says Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association [ITAA]. "This week, the majority of our members - both online and bricks-and-mortar stores - were up between 20 to 25pc on last year's figures.
"One thing we've noticed is that it's far busier in the morning than it is in the afternoon; people tend to search for last-minute holidays on their smartphone or tablet when they're sitting down watching television at night before giving the travel agent a call the next morning.
"People also seem to be going for a minimum three or four-star product," he continues, "and that's certainly something that's changed since last year.
"I would say the surge in bookings is being 70pc driven by the weather and 30pc driven by people feeling a bit more confident about still having their jobs in 12 months' time. Some families are already booking as far ahead as summer 2016."
With 148 flights from Dublin to Spain every week, the package-holiday paradise is still the number one destination for sun-starved Irish holidaymakers, particularly Majorca, Malaga and Ibiza.
Eleventh-hour holidaymakers here are also fleeing to Italy, Greece and Portugal, among others, to get a respite from the rain.
"This July has been the worst in 22 years," says John Spollen of Cassidy Travel, which has eight travel shops in Dublin as well as an online presence, "so it's no surprise that people are fleeing abroad to get a dose of vitamin D before the summer holidays end.
"Costa del Sol, Sorrento and Malta are some of most popular sun-holiday destinations at the moment. And I've truly never seen demand like it for Greece, especially Mykonos or any of the others islands that are easily accessed from the mainland."
"Further afield, the best value is Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Florida, even though the euro is at a 12-year low against the dollar."
"It's all to do with capacity," explains Pat Dawson of the ITAA. "You can advertise until the cows come home, but if there are no flights, it doesn't make any difference.
"Conversely, if an airline throws on 40 flights a week to Italy, suddenly Italy will climb up the ladder."
Spontaneous travellers can expect to pay around €250 per person for a three-day city break or around €600 each for a week-long sun holiday in Europe, according to the experts.
"People want to get away, but they don't want to spend a fortune either," reckons Hackett of clickandGo.com, which is partnered with Aer Lingus. "There are some amazing deals out there, especially on city breaks as fewer people travel on business in summer so there's lots of capacity on scheduled flights.
"Unless you're willing to pay around €600 though, you're not really going to get anywhere for more than a few days in August. After the kids go back to school in September, prices fall off a cliff.
"Temperatures stay high in mainland Europe right throughout September and October," adds John Spollen, "so if you can push your summer holiday out a bit, there are lots of bargains to be had on key destinations."
With just three weeks of freedom left for schoolgoers, meanwhile, there is some debate over whether nabbing a package holiday or cobbling one together yourself online is best - or cheapest.
"If you can get availability on a package holiday with a tour operator, it may be better value as the price will be the same as it was three months ago," argues Pat Dawson. "With dynamic packaging, prices for airfare and accommodation tend to creep up closer to the departure date."
But Hackett insists: "Prices have not shot up as the scheduled airlines have massive capacity every day.
"Once the traditional tour operators' charters are full, they cannot add capacity; whereas we have tonnes of capacity with Aer Lingus to meet this late demand."
Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Trivago may have turned everyone with an iPhone into a travel agent, but early birds and zero-hour holidaymakers alike still value the personal touch, both agree.
"Nobody can be fully online," says Hackett. "People definitely still value being able to call to get advice from the guys in the call centre who know the properties.
"As a travel agent, your website is your shop window," agrees Dawson.
"People look on there to see what you have and then pick up the phone to chat to somebody about it.
"You can read every description and examine every picture in the holiday brochure," he adds.
"But it's not going to tell you if the hotel is three miles from the beach!"