National Holidays customers eager to get away in the spring can look ahead to April and May with renewed confidence, new boss of National parent JG Travel Group Andy Freeth has told TTG.
While the group has pre-emptively cancelled all departures through to the end of March, Freeth said with a big a "big chunk" of the group’s customers falling into those older age brackets likely to be vaccinated over the coming weeks and months, demand for Q2 departures – and beyond – was strong.
"No-one’s going anywhere in March. But from April onwards, we’re cooking with gas," said Freeth. "We’re hopeful we’ll have April departures, that we’ll be running tours, and that customers will enjoy the experiences they’ve booked.
"If, for whatever reason, the government’s steps have not led us out of this, we will, of course, be disappointed, but we’ll do whatever we can to move those customers to equivalent tours later on.
"But as we sit here today, confidence levels are high, albeit tempered by the massive question mark which has hovered over us and the rest of the industry for almost a year."
However, Freeth cautioned it was up to everyone in the country to do their bit by abiding by Covid rules to give the government and the NHS the chance to get everyone vaccinated.
"It seems that programme is doing well, and that will deliver confidence," he said. "We were fortunate enough to get lots of customers away last October, and that gave us a lot of confidence.
"When the time is right [to operate], we’ll do everything we can to keep our customers safe. We’ll only do it if it’s safe and reasonable, and we’ll do it in a Covid-safe way.
"If masks are required by the time April comes, then we’ll ask our customers to wear masks. We will adhere to whatever the government guidelines are at the time.
"We ran full tours in October, and I’m not aware of any issues or cases that arose from those or that anyone felt unsafe. We stuck to the government regulations and guidelines, and we’ll continue to do that to keep customers safe and make them feel they can have a good experience."
Freeth said bookings volumes were picking up with every passing day, albeit from a low base. "Demand in the last few weeks has grown," he said.
"Last week was 25% busier than the week before, but the graphs are starting from low so we’re not getting too excited just yet. This week, so far on last week, is looking like about plus 30-35%.
"The hotspot for us in the last couple of weeks has been June. In the last couple of weeks, June has been really positive. We’ve got our first brochures of the year landing this week with customers and agents, and we’re hopeful we’ll see the return we would normally expect from brochure drops.
"We’ll know a bit more then about the trends. We’re also talking to our customers to get their sentiment – many do wish to book, but it’s April onwards. I think there is probably still a question mark over April, but then there’s a question over everything.
"It makes it difficult to plan, particularly when it comes to marketing spend, what you offer and what you market. We’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best."