Industry bosses believe the sector is set for “the biggest peaks ever” when the country comes out of lockdown, but conceded it was unclear when it was likely to happen.
The TTG Debate – How will the new lockdown impact bookings for 2021? – heard from three leading industry figures who agreed there was “huge pent-up demand” with customers desperate to start travelling again “as soon as they are allowed”.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent Der Touristik UK, told the first TTG+ event of 2021: “I think we will have the biggest peaks we’ve ever had.
“At some point at the end of this there will be a huge release of pent-up demand and we will see a rate of booking we’ve probably never seen before in a fairly concentrated period of time.
“The problem is going to be having the resource to be able to respond to that as everybody has cut back. At some point this is going to come back hard and fast, and we need to be ready for that.”
Kelly Cookes, leisure director at the Advantage Travel Partnership agency consortium, said she thought a delayed peaks season could “come in two waves” when it eventually arrives.
“You will have all those people desperate to travel as soon as they are allowed,” she said. “Then there are those people who will wait for the first wave to have travelled and posted on social [media], then they will book to travel.”
Phil Nuttall, managing director of The Travel Village Group, added: “We’re already seeing a peak focusing on that appetite to travel – for 2022 in particular.
“I’m glad we’ve kept our people in the business, as I think come March and April we’re going to need those people.”
Nuttall said he hoped the government would give the cruise industry “some light at the end of the tunnel” by agreeing a plan by the middle of February for the eventual resumption of cruising. But he admitted he was being “really optimistic” on this potential timescale.
Derek Jones said there were signs that consumers were “ready to splurge” on their holidays when they can.
“People’s pockets are deeper for travel,” he added. “They have saved money for travel and plan to spend more on enhancing their future travel.”
He expected travel choices to revolve around the type of holiday rather than the destination with the Maldives and villas set to remain popular because they offered more isolation and perceived safety away from crowds.
Kelly Cookes said the booking patterns seen by Advantage members had defied predictions with New York in the top three destinations booked during January.
“They are seeing demand for destinations from domestic holidays to long multi-centre trips,” she said. “It’s just about pent-up demand as people want to go out and explore.
“Another trend is the increase in desire to use a travel agent, we’ve definitely seen that. The general public now sees the benefit of using an agent than ever before.”
Phil Nuttall added: “We will continue to see people booking further out. There’s a massive appetite in the tourism industry to get people moving. My hope is we do the right things, stay safe and get on top of this. Then fingers crossed we can get back to travelling again.”
TTG+ members can watch the debate in full here.