Holiday bookings surge after lockdown exit plans

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Holiday firms and airlines have reported a surge in bookings since the plan for easing lockdown was unveiled.

Despite questions over the return of international travel, the UK's biggest holiday firm, Tui, said bookings for foreign trips jumped 500% overnight.

The owner of UK-based holiday firms Hoseasons and said it sold a record 10,000 breaks.

The government said a decision on easing international travel would not happen until mid-May at the earliest.

But Tui said its bookings for July-onwards had soared with Greece, Spain and Turkey the most popular destinations.

Amid uncertainty over when foreign travel will be allowed, some holidaymakers have their sights set on a UK break.

Simon Altham, group chief commercial officer at Awaze, the company behind Hoseasons, said: "Last year following similar announcements we saw bookings peak at one every 11 seconds, but this time demand has exceeded our expectations and comfortably broken that record."

Image caption,
Nat Sommers has booked a break in Yorkshire

Nat Sommers told the BBC she had booked a family trip to Yorkshire after Boris had announced his plans to ease lockdown.

"We'd been keeping our eye on a few places over the last few weeks in anticipation of lockdown being eased," she said.

"We just decided to go for it an book it in the hope that things would be back to relative normality come August."

'Positive' move

Boris Johnson has said a global travel taskforce would put forward a report by 12 April on how to return to international travel.

The government would then make a decision on removing restrictions on international travel, but not before 17 May at the earliest.

As the government has said dates could move for the start of international travel, Tui has said that anyone due to travel between 17 May and the end of June can change their booking to a later date without a fee.

Andrew Flintham, managing director for Tui UK and Ireland, described the government's steps as "positive".

Thomas Cook said traffic to its website was up over 100% on Monday from 15:00 GMT onwards, with bookings "flooding in" for countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

"The government's announcement today is good news for those of us desperate to get away on holiday," said Thomas Cook's chief executive Alan French.

"While we await more details, it's clear that the government's ambition is to open up international travel in the coming months and hopefully in time for the summer holidays."

There was a big leap in family bookings for the summer holidays, especially for August, as well as people booking for the October half term and Christmas, a Thomas Cook spokesman said.

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Image caption,
Crete has seen a surge in bookings, according to EasyJet

EasyJet reported a 337% surge in flight bookings and a 630% jump in holiday bookings for locations such as Alicante, Malaga, Palmo, Faro and Crete.

The airline's chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said Boris Johnson's announcement had "provided a much-needed boost in confidence" for its UK customers.

"We have consistently seen that there is pent up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows that this signal from the government that it plans to reopen travel has been what UK consumers have been waiting for," he said.

Tour operator and airline Jet2 also reported a 1,000% increase in bookings in the 24 hours following the prime minister's announcement. Popular destinations include Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, with a notable spike in demand from July onwards.

Its chief executive, Steve Heapy, said: "The government's announcement is the news [holidaymakers] have been longing for, and the continued surge in bookings shows how ready our customers are to get away to the sunshine on a real package holiday."

While bookings are high, there are still plenty of questions about how international travel will resume - and no guarantees that it will start again in mid-May.

The industry has seen restrictions put on top of restrictions over the last few months, with visitors from entire continents banned, the introduction of quarantine hotels and multiple tests required.

Removing them will take some careful unpicking.

The government has said that any removal will depend on the location of concerning variants, progress of vaccine rollouts here and abroad as well as death rates and hospital admissions.

It's also not just about us. Other countries will need to agree to allow British tourists in. But after fears they could be left off the roadmap, the travel industry is keen to make this plan and these dates work.

Amanda Matthews, managing director and owner of Ramsbottom-based luxury travel agency network Designer Travel, said her firm had seen double the number of enquiries and new bookings for the summer.

"But we've also had hundreds of calls from people who've got bookings for travel in March, April, May and June - still very uncertain about whether they will be travelling or not," she told the BBC.

"Because there's no concrete date yet for the reopening of international travel, as a travel agent, we can't answer our existing clients' questions about holidays they've already booked for spring and summer. We've got no idea."

Image source, Designer Travel
Image caption,
Designer Travel owner Amanda Matthews says her firm saw double the usual number of enquiries on Monday

While the roadmap has provided hope for summer holidays, retail expert Kate Hardcastle said there was also "huge disappointment" for the travel industry - particularly among domestic overnight accommodation providers such as mobile home holiday parks and holiday cottage providers.

"Easter is obviously a critical part of the travel calendar for travel agencies and the industry, so it's a lost opportunity, one less holiday to be able to sell within," she told the BBC.

"I also know a lot of families are dependent on Easter holidays as it tends to be cheaper and more cost effective than the summer holidays. It would be awful to think that some people are completely priced out of a holiday this year."

But data from hotel technology company Avvio suggests a heyday for upmarket UK hotels, with August revenue for 4- and 5-star hotels more than tripling as would-be holiday makers bank on domestic breaks being more likely.

On Tuesday, global hotels group InterContinental Hotels, which owns the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, said the sector was unlikely to see a recovery until later this year, dependent on vaccine rollouts.

"2021 has begun with many of these challenges still in place," chief executive Keith Barr said, as the company unveiled a $260m (£185m) loss.