While question marks hang over the reallocation of some of Monarch’s slots, operators and cruise lines are pushing the early booking message as they anticipate another successful year for Mediterranean destinations. We round up the latest trends and developments in the run up to peaks.
The collapse of Monarch Airlines and its Monarch Holidays brand could add to an expected shortage of hotel capacity in Spain, Greece and Portugal next year, despite moves to plug the gap.
Meanwhile, Jet2.com is going all out for growth, with its Jet2holidays brand (licensed for nearly three million passengers) overtaking Thomas Cook to become the second largest Atol-protected operator, behind Tui.
Within days of Monarch’s demise, it announced 550,000 more seats for summer 2018 from Birmingham (doubling the number of based aircraft to eight), Manchester (two more aircraft) and Leeds Bradford (one more aircraft). It started operating from Stansted this year and will base 10 aircraft there
Most popular Mediterranean destinations are benefiting from the growth, but Bodrum (Turkey), Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Venice (Italy) are new routes from Birmingham.
Yet according to leading upmarket specialist Classic Collection, a shortage of hotel beds could be more of a problem than a shortage of seats.
Deputy managing director Matt Rice says: “Competitor airlines had already started to acquire many of the routes vacated by Monarch. But with so many airlines using the shorter rotations to the Western Med rather than longer rotations to Egypt and Turkey, the challenge might be once again a shortage of bed stock in the Western Med.
“It’s looking very strong, with double-digit gains year-on-year for Portugal, Croatia and Greece. Spain and Italy are broadly in line with last summer and there is talk of a better year ahead for Turkey and Egypt. Maybe this will materialise in the peak sales period.”
Another upmarket specialist, Prestige Holidays, is pushing early booking offers. Majorca is its best seller with discounts of up to £177 per person, per week on offer.
General manager David Skillicorn says: “Many of Majorca’s most desirable properties are being snapped up, so it’s certainly worth committing to next year’s holiday now.”
Tui and Thomas Cook are both expanding their own brand portfolios, with Tui opening a new Sensatori resort in Rhodes and an adults-only Sensimar resort in Halkidiki, Greece. Its emphasis is increasingly on “mid-haul” destinations such as Bulgaria.
Thomas Cook is introducing a further 18 own-brand hotels across the Casa Cook, Sunprime, Sunwing, Sentido, SunConnect and smartline brands, including its first own-brand hotel in Sardinia, Sentido Orosei.
Simply Luxury by Travel 2 is expanding across the Mediterranean, particularly in Greece and Cyprus.
“We are seeing new offers coming in for Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, where many hotels have early-bird discounts or free upgrades to half-board,” says Lauren Ross, product and commercial manager – Europe.
Mark Warner – with six summer activity resorts in the Med – will introduce “foiling” in Kos and Rhodes, described as an advanced style of sailing and windsurfing.
A surprise addition to the summer sun ranks is coach tour operator Shearings, with flexible stay-put air holidays to Cyprus, Malta, Madeira and the Costa del Sol.
Following a period of uncertainty about how long it would take for Monarch’s former slots at Luton and Gatwick to be released for sale, Monarch administrators KPMG has now been able to sell the Gatwick slots to IAG. IAG has said these will mostly be used for British Airways flights.
Monarch’s former 24 daily summer Luton slots are also up for sale and KPMG has until January to find buyers or they will go back into the pool for anyone to use. Jet2.com moved quickly to replace some former Monarch routes in the regions.
Jet2.com and easyJet have also been busy recruiting ex-Monarch staff, which could be another sign of paving the way for expansion.
New year-round Mediterranean routes previously announced by easyJet include Bristol to Athens, Liverpool to Venice, Luton to Alghero (Sardinia) and Luton to Seville.
British Airways will start a twice-weekly service from Heathrow to Almeria in southern Spain next March. It already operates 36 flights a week from London airports to Malaga, just along the coast.
Ryanair is also adding new routes to the Med, with a twice-weekly route from Aberdeen to Malta launching in April 2018, as well as Belfast-Malta, Birmingham-Malta, Bristol-Valencia and Leeds-Murcia.
Flybe has upped its Southampton-Malaga service to four flights a week next summer.
Cruise lines are expecting another good season in the Mediterranean and they too are urging agents to book early.
The new name for 2018 is Marella Cruises, rebranded from Thomson Cruises, which claims to be the UK’s third largest cruise line. It introduces a sixth ship, Marella Explorer, from May, based in Palma, Majorca. The 15 new ports of call for the six ships include Monaco, Ancona (Italy) and Skiathos Town (Greece).
Also adding to its fleet is Azamara Club Cruises, with the Azamara Pursuit becoming its third vessel.
New port excursions include an exclusive performance of ancient Greek drama in Rhodes.
“We’ve seen the most demand for our Amalfi, Dalmatian Coast and Adriatic voyages,” says managing director Richard Twynam. “Summer 2017 was hugely successful, with many of our Mediterranean sailings reaching near-full capacity.”
Celebrity Cruises will make Southampton the homeport for Silhouette next year, with new itineraries around the Western Med.
“The Med has performed incredibly well with cruises sold out well ahead of time,” says Claire Stirrup, Celebrity Cruises’ sales director. “The big lesson is for agents to encourage their customers to book in plenty of time for summer 2018 to avoid disappointment.”
Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line will have five ships based in the Med next year.
“Next April is the anniversary of our launch of Premium All Inclusive, which has been well received, reflecting the increased trend for flexibility and freedom within the cruising industry,” says managing director UK & Ireland, Nick Wilkinson.
Silversea added Silver Muse as its new flagship this year, calling at over 60 ports and 12 countries in the Mediterranean.
“Our ships will make new ports of call in Greece, Italy and Croatia, where we are already seeing strong forward bookings,” says Connie Georgiou, head of trade sales and partnerships UK & Ireland.
Seabourn’s latest addition, Ovation, joins the fleet next summer and will operate some itineraries in the Mediterranean.