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Bookings for summer sun holidays back to pre-pandemic levels, despite rising prices


On the beach: Sun-starved Irish holidaymakers have delivered a near-

On the beach: Sun-starved Irish holidaymakers have delivered a near-

On the beach: Sun-starved Irish holidaymakers have delivered a near-

Sun-starved Irish holidaymakers have delivered a near record booking surge, with travel agents, airlines and cruise firms poised to achieve pre-Covid pandemic business levels for the first time in four years.

The surge in 2023 bookings came despite rising prices and increased competition for prime resort accommodation in the most popular holiday destinations.

Some in-demand holiday packages have soared by almost 25pc in price compared to 2020/21 due to reduced capacity, increased demand across Europe and higher input costs, especially aviation fuel.

While some luxury, high-end holidays have risen in price by 30pc plus.

Despite this, Irish holidaymakers have raced to make early bookings to secure early offers.

Irish holidaymakers are worth €8bn to the global travel trade – with 9.4 million outbound trips taken from Ireland in 2019.

Travel Department product director Claire Doherty said January bookings for summer holidays were back at pre-pandemic levels.

“Holidays are back with a bang,” she said. 

“This January has matched pre-pandemic levels as people scramble to make sure they get the best holidays after years of missing out.

“Due to having less airline capacity, flight prices are very high and availability is already an issue for most of 2023.

“Some of our more popular hotels in Italy are sold out for the next few months already, with a lot of interest for the second half of the year.

“Those hoping to hold out for a good deal will likely be very disappointed as both flights and hotels are reporting very high occupancy rates for this year,” she added.

Some Italian resorts are heavily booked with availability in some parts of Lake Como now only remaining for September.

Travel Department, which provides guided group-holidays, said Spanish destinations are now offering great value for money, particularly for added-value breaks. However people are also travelling further afield.

“Our long-haul tours are also selling well, which has surprised even us,” Ms Doherty said.

“While we know that travel is back and hoteliers and guides are waiting to welcome visitors, we expected it to take some time for people to be comfortable travelling longer distances, but we have been proven wrong, and happily so.

“Tours to Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Japan and South Africa are selling fast.

"People want to seize the day and experience the world after being denied that ability.”

TUI boss Sebastian Ebel said he expects significant growth for the 2023 season.

“Summer 2022 was very encouraging. Even though the restrictions were lifted late, our bookings were at a good 90pc of the 2019 level, so almost the volume we had before the pandemic, while our average earnings were significantly higher,” he said.

Mr Ebel said traditional holiday destinations such as Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands as well as the Greek Islands were again proving popular.

“Travelling means a lot to people.”

Long-haul flights and holidays have also enjoyed a recovery in bookings, although the sector still remains down on pre-pandemic operations.

Prices have increased significantly because of the exposure of long-haul travel to fuel prices.

While the sector remains significantly down on 2018/19 operations, US holidays are leading the recovery with strong bookings by Irish travellers for destinations such as Florida, Las Vegas, New York and California.

Willie Walsh, the former chief executive of airline group IAG and the current head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the pressure on oil prices and the knock-on impact on aviation fuel fees inevitably hit flight costs.

“Flights are getting more expensive because of the high price of oil and it has been clear to everybody that (this) will be reflected in higher ticket prices,” he said.

“Flying will be more expensive for consumers, without doubt. Oil is the single biggest element of an airline’s cost base. It is inevitable that ultimately the higher oil prices will be passed through to consumers.”

As a result, holiday prices have risen in line with surging oil and input prices.

For example, a two-week holiday for two adults and two teenage children in Benidorm in early July, departing from Dublin, now costs €2,618 on an accommodation-only basis.

The same holiday would have cost just under €2,300 in July 2019.

A two-week holiday in Lanzarote for two adults and two teenage children in early July now costs €3,378, again on an accommodation-only basis from Dublin.

Four years ago, the same holiday would have cost around €2,800.

Irish travel agents confirmed the surge in early bookings as holidaymakers desperately search for bargains and value-for-money in their favourite destinations, with some travellers having booked for summer 2023 as early as last September.

Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) president Paul Hackett said it was clear that thousands of Irish holidaymakers wanted to book by the end of January to secure the best options and prices.

He said what was unique about the 2023 season was the number of travellers opting to pay for holidays on a phased basis instead of by single lump sums.

He said Irish travellers were also returning to their favourite holiday trends, with bookings to Spain, in particular, proving strong.

Ireland’s favourite sun destinations include mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Algarve, France, Italy, Greece and Croatia.

The UK dwarfs other destinations in terms of total air travel by Irish citizens, albeit for shorter weekend stays and family visits.

Central Statistics Office (CSO) data indicated that six of the top 10 air traffic destinations each year for Irish travellers are in the UK.

In terms of domestic holidays, Irish hotels are fighting hard to maintain their recovery though the Irish Hotel Federation admitted it will likely be three years before business returns to 2019 levels.

A major issue has been the ongoing fall-out from Brexit with the UK now suffering from the lowest rate of growth of any of the world’s eight major economies, and the cost of living squeeze in the UK hitting holiday spending.

Irish hoteliers have also been hit by increased operating costs due to soaring electricity, oil and gas prices.

Ireland’s domestic holiday sector has been strategically dependent on the UK market for decades with one-in-two Irish hoteliers now reporting reduced forward bookings for summer 2023 compared to four years ago on the British market.

Room occupancy rates are now at 70pc, almost 10pc below the comparable figure from four years ago.

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