The government’s efforts to ease the UK’s travel restrictions through quarantine-free "travel corridors" and exemptions from the Foreign Office’s global travel advisory look set to unlock months’ pent-up travel demand, according to TTG’s latest Travel Agent Tracker survey.
Agents though have raised concerns suppliers may not be ready to handle the influx given the volume of sales and reservations staff still on furlough; last week, 75% of respondents to the Week 13 survey (week to 3 July) said they were ready to start hearing from suppliers about business support and training.
However, several respondents reported difficulties reaching suppliers to process new bookings, with one major high street independent claiming getting suppliers to quote summer 2020 departures was the biggest challenge facing their business.
Others said ongoing delays to refunds were making it more difficult to get clients to part with their cash; in total, a quarter of respondents (32) cited refunds as their greatest barrier to new business.
There was also consternation over the complexities of the government’s travel corridor and FCO exemptions, announced on 3 July.
One respondent said the regime would prove "another big learning curve" for the trade with so many destinations imposing different restrictions and making onerous demands for new documentation. "It’s a pity this information has been given in such a piecemeal way," they said.
Another added that despite the government’s list of "safe" destinations, too many – more than two-thirds, analysis by the PC Agency and AudienceNet found – still had inbound quarantine or testing requirements. "Until this changes, I fear these will be ’no go’ areas for us."
Even before the changes to the FCO advice and quarantine exemptions were announced, consumers were starting to book again though for summer; the Week 12 survey highlighted a 16% spike in respondents reporting new summer 2020 bookings, which increased a further 5% this week to 32% – meaning nearly a third of respondents took a summer 2020 booking in the week to 3 July.
The effect has been a reduction in bookings for autumn 2020 and beyond, with respondents reporting week-on-week decreases in bookings for all future booking windows. Nonetheless, the rate of respondents taking no new bookings in the past week, which has been decreasing steadily since Tracker was launched in mid-April, fell sharply from 30% to 21%.
Leading the way are sales for European Mediterranean breaks and beach holidays, followed by city breaks and bookings for non-Med European destinations – perhaps reflecting several European low-cost carriers efforts to resume operations this month.
The main complaint raised by respondents though was the government’s haphazard approach to lifting the UK’s travel restrictions, which many said was creating "confusion" and "uncertainty" and contributing to a lack of consumer confidence. Nearly half of all responses referenced these impacts.
TTG Media will continue to survey agents throughout the coronavirus crisis to gauge the impact on the travel trade. Look out for the weekly tracker email, sent at 1pm on Fridays. Any feedback on the tracker should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.