The UK may be in a period of economic and political uncertainty, but consumer intent to travel and interest from investors in the industry remains strong.
That was the message from Martin Alcock, director of the Travel Trade Consultancy, speaking at The Global Travel Group Conference.
Addressing delegates, Alcock highlighted recent figures from the Office of National Statistics which showed that in the three months to February 2017, UK residents made 12.7 million visits abroad – an increase of 4% compared with February 2016.
Using data from Google, Alcock examined the destinations that UK customers had been searching for.
Number one was Spain, which for the first quarter of this year saw a 5% rise in interest year-on-year, while the US, which ranked second, saw a 3% fall in enquiries compared with the same period last year.
Alcock noted that the time period coincided with Donald Trump becoming US president, but added that the fall could also indicate currency concerns, given the current strength of the dollar against the pound.
Meanwhile he said airlines were utilising the fall in oil prices to “plough extra capacity” into destinations.
EasyJet has planned a 9% increase in capacity for its 2017 financial year he said, while IAG and Ryanair are each planning 10% increases in capacity for the year, and Wizz Air has planned 20% capacity growth.
However airlines have seen a subsequent fall in prices, with Ryanair fares dropping 16% due to overcapacity in Europe and easyJet warning that the pricing and operating environment remains “very tough”, according to Alcock.
Elsewhere, he sounded a note of caution, as he warned that household debt was “rising fast”, while personal insolvencies rose 15% in 2016, and the savings to earnings ratio is now at its lowest since 1963.
But he added that despite economic concerns, interest in the travel sector from private investment remains high.
He cited a number of deals which have already taken place this year, such as the £12 million acquisition of Sunshine.co.uk by On the Beach announced last week, and the £325 million purchase of Travelopia by private equity firm KKR.
And asked by TTG whether that appetite from private equity sectors would remain as the UK braces for Brexit, Alcock replied: “I’ve no doubt that they [private equity] still like this sector. Private equity deals in travel hit their peak around 2014/15, so some of these are now reaching the next level.
“They’ve started coming to fruition, so I do think we’ll still see deals happening, although,” he added, “the nature of these deals may change.”