The trade has reported a positive – but slow – start to peaks, as agents speak of a notable rise in customers’ concerns regarding terrorism.
Thomas Cook’s UK managing director Chris Mottershead admitted that it “was always going to be challenging”, but said the travel giant was happy with current sales.
“We’ve made significant capacity adjustments to our western Mediterranean destinations. We’ve matched the capacity [we had in Tunisia and Egypt] with Balearics, Spain, and we’ve even gone back to Benidorm,” he told TTG.
It comes as Cook prepares for a new seven-day promotional campaign, focused around the strapline “Online prices in-store”.
“We feel it gives us a competitive advantage over other companies that don’t have the same price as they do online as in store,” Mottershead said. “It’s a real positive differentiator.”
Cook also launched a new direct debit scheme this week, enabling customers to pay for their holiday across a longer period.
Elsewhere, Barrhead Travel chief executive Sharon Munro said sales had been quiet between Christmas and New Year, but January so far had improved, with passenger numbers up 20% year-on-year.
“Since January 1 things have picked up but it is really patchy, one day it’s strong and then not so strong.”
Munro added that the western Mediterranean was proving popular with bookings for Spain up 28%, Greece up by 37% and Italy by 53%, compared with Turkey which was down 52% and Egypt, down by 89%.
The Caribbean is also proving popular, up by 30%, while cruise has also seen a 22% boost.
Gordon McCreadie, director of sales and marketing B2B, Travel 2 and Gold Medal said the business had seen “an amazing start to peaks”.
Meanwhile, Global Travel Group managing director Andy Stark told TTG that January sales were “comfortable”, although he acknowledged that like 2015, the month hadn’t “started with a bang”.
“Like last year, it’s been slow – there wasn’t an absolute bang to the start of the year. But we’re comfortable and sales are gaining momentum”
Elite Travel Group chief executive Neil Basnett said sales had picked up following a slow initial start to the year, but added members had been buoyed by a better than normal December, when sales have traditionally been much slower.
John Sullivan, head of commercial and marketing at Advantage Travel Partnership, said members expected summer sales to pick up by the end of the month, and this year was no different with figures currently flat.
However, he added that sales for the current winter season were up year-on-year by single digits, while winter 2016-17 sales had seen a double digit increase.
“Because of some of the issues going on in the world, people really are wanting to talk to an expert and want to know the places they’re travelling to are good, sound destinations,” he added.
Sullivan’s comments were echoed by independent agents, who also reported a strong start.
Kristina Hulme, from Cheshire-based Travel by Design, said she had seen a significant rise in the number of former customers coming back to book, and that there were a “lot more questions being asked”.
“We’ve had a lot of people coming back to us, from years and years ago. They’ve tried doing it themselves online, but they want that human contact – I think it’s a trust thing, especially with all the [terrorism] problems last year.”
Travel-PA’s Jenny Jackson said she had also seen a “very good start to the season”.
“Enquiries and bookings seem to be well up compared with the same time last year,” she said. However, she added that clients were “very aware” of terrorism, with customers actively staying away from Turkey and Egypt’s Red Sea resorts.