Travel agents report a “rebound” in bookings this month, but expect price surges due to fewer air seats
Omicron is looking less ominous, new public holidays have been planned, and the first payday of January is on the horizon.
In travel, it feels like there’s a pandemic of cautious optimism in the air.
“The rebound is happening,” says John Spollen of Cassidy Travel. Overseas holiday enquiries and bookings picked up as soon as Ireland’s testing restrictions were eased, he says. “We are seeing huge demand.”
But there’s a knock-on effect for punters seeking what, for many, could be a first sun holiday abroad since 2019.
“Book now, book early or put down a deposit," Spollen advises.
“Because with everything going on, we are in danger of seeing prices rise and availability slipping away.”
With fewer air seats on the market, prices could rise “maybe 5, 10, 15pc,” he predicts. “If you’re travelling, it’s best to avoid peak holiday times.”
Other factors that may push prices this year include pent-up demand, inflation, aviation fuel costs, global staffing issues and some holidays rebooked due to disruptions in 2020 or 2021.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has predicted prices would rise “ dramatically” this summer, and Craig Morgan, TUI's Head of Ireland, says 10-20pc price surges in the late market, as reported by media, “wouldn’t surprise me”.
“If the demand we’ve seen in the last few days carries on, I can see prices definitely going up, particularly in the school holiday periods,” he says.
However, the good news for holidaymakers is that there are “really strong offers" for early bird bookers, Morgan adds. TUI, for example, is offering discounts of €100 when you spend €1,000 in its ‘Live Happy' sale.
TUI has seen a significant change in bookings in the last 10 days or so, and he “hopes and expects” bookings lost in early January will continue to come through in February.
The tour operator is also seeing a rise in demand for “unique products” like holiday villages, all-inclusive resorts and 10-11-night holidays, as well as a propensity for people to spend more.
Aer Lingus has extended its January sale, and says “confidence is soaring” based on an increase in searches on its website to places like Alicante, Lanzarote and Faro.
Other agents and tour operators are offering a host of January specials, free child places, early booking discounts and more in a drive for early season bookings.
Holidaymakers can also look to the shoulder months of May, September and October, John Spollen advises, or travel midweek or on early and late flights to work around the fringes of demand.
“Be flexible, it all rolls into that,” he says.
Of course, it is in the industry’s interest to get people booking holidays and it remains to be seen how much prices may actually go up. Airlines will likely look to raise capacity in response to demand, and Ryanair this week announced its largest ever summer schedule from Dublin, but Covid makes things hard to predict.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation,” as Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA) puts it.
“There is a huge pent-up demand for people to get out of this country. They want a break,” he says.
Right now, availability is good and there is “great value on the ground”, he adds. "The only worry we have is the spike in airline prices.”
At Sunway, CEO Mary Denton reports a “very positive” couple of weeks, with “an immediate bounce” in enquiries following the easing of testing restrictions.
“So long as things go in the right direction with Covid, and this wave eases up, I definitely think things are going to pick up,” she adds. “I think March might be our new January for bookings.”
Holidaymakers are mostly interested in “tried and tested” destinations like Spain, Portugal and the Canaries, Denton says, with long-haul bookings likely to gather pace later in the year, all going well.
However, “prices are not going to stay low," she says.
“I think it’s just supply and demand… capacity is not going to be at the same level as it was before, and most people probably haven’t been away on a proper summer holiday since 2019.
“The time to book is definitely now.”