Agents fear the government’s decision to revoke Spain’s quarantine-free travel corridor and advise against all but essential travel to the country’s mainland and islands has set consumer confidence back several months.
Respondents to TTG’s latest Travel Agent Tracker survey said the move on 25 July had contributed to a significant downturn in consumer confidence and a wider feeling of uncertainty among clients with a fifth of all Week 17 respondents (week to 31 July) explicitly citing "uncertainty" in their responses.
One high street agent said the decision had "crushed" the limited recovery to date, with another adding: "Having closed Spain, they may as well close summer."
Their comments are indicative of growing anger throughout the trade about the government’s failure to address the concerns raised by the retail travel sector, and the legislative noose around the neck of suppliers.
"No one wants to talk about anything, let alone book a holiday with flights," stressed one respondent. Another said: "There is a lack of certainty about going anywhere abroad following the FCO’s decision on Spain. It’s gone absolutely dead again, and feels like it did three to four months ago when no one was interested in travel."
With Spain off the UK travel map for now, options for mass market summer getaways have slimmed considerably at a time when capacity is already significantly constrained.
Some agents said they welcomed new flight stock for Greece and Turkey, while others lamented both the lack of UK summer holiday capacity and the apparent disinclination from domestic suppliers to service trade enquiries versus direct clients.
It was a brutal week for new enquiries, with only just over two-thirds of respondents (68.5%) reporting new enquiries during Week 17 – down 16.5 percentage points (ppts) week-on-week to its lowest level since the start of June. Meanwhile, the number of respondents reporting a week-on-week increase in enquiries more than halved from 57% in Week 16 to 24% a week later.
Bookings suffered a less severe fate, with the rate of respondents reporting new bookings in Week 17 down five ppts to 63%. However, like enquiries, those reporting a week-on-week increase in sales more than halved from 46.5% to 21%.
"Consumer confidence is completely shot after the Spanish quarantine fiasco," said one agent, with another adding: “The change in FCO advice on Spain has pulled the rug out from under our feet.”
Respondents reporting interest from clients in European Med destinations fell 13.5 ppts week-on-week and 13 ppts in other European destinations, while domestic (UK and Ireland) holiday interest increased one ppt to 36%, highlighting the demand for domestic product, which several respondents said was "selling out".
“I could have made four bookings this week if there had been availability for Cornwall in August," said one agent.
Interest by holiday type was broadly down, with the exception of cruise, which increased four ppts to 15%, although it remains to be seen what the effect of the Hurtigruten and Paul Gauguin outbreaks have on interest in and demand for cruise holidays.
Meanwhile, the rate of respondents reporting no bookings increased eight ppts during Week 17 to 28%, with summer 2020 bookings seemingly bearing the brunt of this decline – down 6.5 ppts overall.
However, it remains the most popular booking window with 40.5% of Week 17 respondents reporting taking a summer 2020 booking. Summer 2021 follows with 36.5%.