Holiday companies are reporting a rise in bookings for trips abroad in 2022 as consumers’ doubts grow as to whether international travel will resume this summer.
In the past week, Thomas Cook’s 2021 bookings have been overtaken by bookings for 2022. “This summer still is not certain. What we’re selling for 2022 is higher-price, longer-stay holidays for large groups,” said spokesman David Child, adding that the type of holidays being booked indicated a desire for big “blow-out” trips next year.
Tour operators saw an immediate surge in interest when Boris Johnson revealed his roadmap for England on 21 February, but warnings against overseas travel by scientists earlier this month put a brake on bookings, and, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer, left consumers pessimistic that holidays will resume any time soon.
Last week TUI, the UK’s largest tour operator, announced a cut in capacity for summer 2021 but said bookings for May 2022 were up 150% on May this year.
Smaller operators are seeing the same patterns. Sunvil, which specialises in holidays to Greece and Cyprus, has been fielding calls from consumers deferring their 2021 holidays, while taking bookings for next year. “We’ve had nothing for 2021 in the last 10 days, but on Monday we took £40,000 worth of bookings for 2022,” said chairman Noel Josephides.
He said the lack of interest this year had led some accommodation owners on Greek islands to close for the summer.
Josephides called the current lack of certainty “a nightmare”, but said he hadn’t lost all hope for 2021 yet. “We’ve still got two months until the end of May – and in those two months, Europe will move a great deal,” he said, referring to the vaccination programme.
Airlines and Eurostar have yet to reveal their summer schedules. A spokesman for EasyJet said: “We remain of the view that international travel can restart and that, with the right framework in place, restrictions can be safely and progressively reduced and in some cases removed by mid-summer for key destinations.”
The government’s global Travel Taskforce is expected to unveil some of its recommendations on 5 April. Plans are expected to include a traffic light system, with countries categorised as green, amber or red, but it may not be in place until August. In the meantime, the hotel quarantine scheme for people returning from red list countries could continue until in June.
This week the International Air Transport Association (Iata) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) called on the UK government to replace PCR testing on departure with rapid antigen testing. According to research commissioned by Iata, a family of four travelling from the UK to the Canary Islands will take a total of 16 tests at a cost of around £1,600, a premium of 160% on top of the average air fare. The prohibitive cost will reduce demand by an average of 65%, the research found. Replacing PCR with antigen testing would still have an impact on demand, but at 30%.
“Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to reopen their borders to travellers. For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travellers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and ceo.
Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Turkey have already said they will reopen to tourists in May, but whether those countries will be included in the UK government’s green list remains to be seen.
The latest data from the World Tourism Organisation shows that tourist arrivals to Europe were down 85% at the start of 2021.