Slump in demand for sun trips spells end of package holidays
TRAVEL agents will carry two-thirds fewer holidaymakers to the sun this year than they they did at the height of the boom, with experts saying the package holiday will never recover.
There are only 350,000 package holiday seats on offer from Ireland this summer, compared to more than a million in 2006, the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) said yesterday.
And the bad news, for last-minute bookers, is that the dramatic reduction in capacity means the kind of cut-price package deals on offer in Britain are not available for Irish holidaymakers.
The economic situation, and the collapse of Budget Travel last October are the main factors behind the reduction, with business down around 10pc this year, said ITAA Chief Executive Simon Nugent.
Many people had left it extremely late to book, but were disappointed to find that there is not a huge choice of package holidays left since demand for them reduced.
"It is probably the very end of August, and into September, where the late deals start becoming available, as the schools go back," Mr Nugent said.
Chief of Falcon Holidays Ireland, Christine Donnelly, said the Irish situation was the exact opposite of the UK.
She said the election, the emergency budget and the World Cup had all resulted in low levels of early booking, meaning there was a glut of holidays available now.
Conversely, there was a massive cut in capacity in Ireland, particularly with the closing of Budget Travel.
While Falcon had laid on an extra 20,000 to 30,000 seats this year, that did not compensate for the reductions seen elsewhere.
However, Ms Donnelly feels the loss of some travel agents has allowed the remaining ones to concentrate on better products and she is optimistic there will be some growth next year.
"I am confident that we will see growth returning and as a result of all the consolidation, the industry is actually in a healthier state and more focused than ever on providing what consumers want," Ms Donnelly said.
However, a new online travel company said that the shift away from traditional package holidays was permanent, as consumers were looking for the greater flexibility which scheduled airlines were able to offer.
"Seventy percent of traditional package holidaymakers now use low-cost airlines such as Aer Lingus and Ryanair and build their own packages," said clickandgo.com Chief Executive Paul Hackett.
Aer Lingus and Ryanair had targeted this market by putting on huge numbers of flights, to destinations such as Faro and Malaga -- with Aer Lingus even using their massive transatlantic A330 planes for some flights to Malaga and Nice.
"Consumers want these options because the traditional 14-day holiday is dead, and people now want 5-day or 7-day or 10-day holidays so they need different options on flights and the tour operators don't have that flexibility," said Mr Hackett.
Demand for their new service has exceeded projections as they carried 3,000 passengers in their first 10 weeks.
This offered holidaymakers the chance to get the cheapest available flights with Ryanair, or Aer Lingus, and then book cheap accommodation and transfers with the website if they wished.
Sunway Managing Director Tanya Airey said that take-up was better than last year, and while there were some reductions, they were nowhere near the scale seen in Britain.
Across the water, there are last-minute deals going for 40pc to 70pc of the full brochure prices.
"In terms of last-minute offers, what you are seeing here is a reduction of around €50, and there are not loads of places available, which shows we got it right this year in terms of places," Ms Airey said.
Meanwhile, Kerry and Galway are the most popular options for "staycationers" who want to have a self-catering holiday at home this year, according to online website myhome.ie.
Those two counties topped the searches for holiday homes on their website, but the best value was in Monaghan, Longford and Offaly, where homes could be rented for as little as €262 to €315 per week.