The vaccine rollout will not prompt a January bookings surge, and its effects on travel may not be felt until late summer, the Aito 2020 Virtual Conference was told.
Opening the event, BBC health editor Hugh Pym said: “I don’t think anyone should suddenly think from the spring there’s a magic bullet that deals with everything.” He said he thought travel next year, would be “restrained, but there”.
“If you think back to late summer this year, it might be like that next summer, but that’s a cautious personal view.”
He said vaccinating the elderly and vulnerable should lead to a huge drop in Covid cases generally by spring, but cautioned that there was currently only one approved vaccine.
“The virus is still around and there is a view that until the autumn we will have to accept some sort of restriction.”
Pym outlined the cost to the economy, saying the 2008 banking crisis had led to a £66 billion injection by the government, whereas the controversial Test and Trace scheme alone had cost £22 billion.
Travel Trade Consultancy director Martin Alcock predicted a “stepped” booking pattern in 2021, with January sales far short of the total normally expected.
He said January could normally see “up to 20%” of annual sales made, but predicted:
“We are going to see a much quieter January. I think we will see much more like this stepped profile as customers react to events.
“I think realistically, (it will be) Q3 before the vaccine has propagated enough into society that we have sufficient coverage.”
He added testing was far more important in the short term. “The problem we have seen is that it’s still a very fragmented approach.”
Alcock was upbeat about agents’ prospects. Online sales across all sectors, he said, had seen five years’ normal growth in the last eight months, reaching more than 30% of all retail sales. This compared with the normal 1-2% shift a year.
However, complaints about travel refunds and future difficulties with documentation and testing requirements meant agents would be more in demand, he said.
“I think travel had been experiencing the same sort of gradual shift, but there is a strong case for it going in the opposite direction.”