While surveys of real-time intention to travel are hard to come by, there is enough activity among British travelers to suggest that they are always thinking about travel, so it doesn’t matter when you poll them about their travel plans. As recently as early February, ABTA was releasing survey results showing that six million Brits had booked a winter holiday (most of them to warm-weather destinations, with Florida a favorite long-hall destination).
Now, after the dunning reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in during the second half of March, bringing with it a halt to almost all long-haul traffic, Brits might not be traveling. But they’re still thinking of traveling.
Last week, analysts at Sojern, the travel website/high-tech search engine revealed that travel searches for trips from the UK to Spain with a departure date in January 2021 are up year-over-year by 1,626 per cent. However, searches for trips to Germany, however, are below average for the same month, based on data from March 30.
In assaying the situation, a Sojern statement put it this way: “While actual travel bookings are a stronger sign of consumer confidence, many consumers will search out of general interest, to check for availability and pricing and travel inspiration for their favorite destinations.”
It added, “The departure date of January 2021 is extremely far out and we usually only see a small percentage of early searches looking at regional travel this far in advance.”
‘We are, however, seeing an increase in early searches due to the current situation,” the statement continued. “Therefore, these numbers, although significant in terms of increases, are very early signs of travel intent.”
In the UK, much of the high-intensity coverage of the travel and tourism industry in the British trade press has focused on bread-and-butter issues related to the very survival of parts of the industry. There has been a vigorous debate on the matter of vouchers: tour operators and travel agents prefer vouchers to customers and clients upon the cancellation of a trip. Understandably, the customers want cash back.
In the midst of all of this, there are small items that, like the Sojern study, suggest that Brits still want to holiday.
For instance, Kuoni‘s total revenue for the third week of April was almost level with the same time last year, which, the operator said, was a positive sign that people were starting to plan their 2021 holidays while they’re in lockdown.
However, Kuoni admitted that new booking revenue is down vs. last year and the majority of holidays booked for 2021 are existing customers re-arranging cancelled trips. But the company pointed out, week-on-week there had been a “significant uplift” in enquiries, brochure requests and phone calls
Good news for DMOs and suppliers in California, Kuoni CEO Derek Jones said that, among the bookings confirmed during week question were safaris in Kenya combined with beach extensions; fly-drives to California; Bali beach stays; and tailor-made trips to Australia.)
Then, there is this from TTG’s Travel Age Travel Agent Tracker: Customer Enquiries Are on The Rise.
The number of agents receiving customer enquiries grew for the week ending April 17th. However, those managing to secure sales dipped slightly. More from the Tracker:
—In a study of 358 travel consultants across the UK and Ireland, questioned on 17 April, 53 percent of the 314 that answered ‘Have you had any customer enquiries for new holidays this week?’ said they had experienced an enquiries boost–up 11 percent from the previous week.
—However, the number of agents who secured a sale dropped by 3 percent, from 32 percent the previous week to 29 percent this time around, although 20 percent of overall respondents said their sales had grown week-on-week, with 62% telling the Agent Tracker their bookings tally had remained unchanged.
—Europe was the most popular destination for enquiries (39 percent of respondents reported interest from clients this past week), with North America the second most popular (22 percent), while Central America, including the Caribbean, came in at 17 percent and Asia 9 percent.
—Asked which type of holidays customers were most interested in, beach breaks was top–coming in at 34 percent of respondents, followed by cruise at 16 percent.
—Of the 259 agents that answered “Which destinations have customers actually booked?”, 31 percent of respondents made a booking for Europe this past week, North America was the second most sold region at 16 percent, followed by Central America including the Caribbean the next most booked destination at 12 percent.
—Summer 2021 was the most popular time for bookings, at 46 percent, with autumn/winter 2020 next at 36 percent, while spring 2021 at 34 percent came in a close third.
This add: Over 50s specialist Saga Holidays has cancelled all departures up to June 1st. Clients due to travel up to the end of June can postpone their trips and transfer to another holiday from September 2020 to December 2021 without incurring any cancellation fees or penalties.
And any item about the UK these days wouldn’t be complete without some trash talking from the eminently quotable Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air, who dismissed the suggestion of blocking a space in between seats on airplanes as “idiotic.”
Actually, in context, it was thus: He told the Financial Times: “We can’t make money on 66 percent load factors. Even if you do that, the middle seat doesn’t deliver any social distancing, so it’s kind of an idiotic idea that doesn’t achieve anything anyway.”