Tui has echoed criticism of the government’s approach to Covid but joined others in an upbeat assessment of the coming months.
Speaking during a WTM Virtual session, Richard Sofer, Tui UK and Ireland commercial and business development director, said the constant change of messages from the government had caused issues.
“A decision taken on the Monday, very quickly, you might need to reverse on Tuesday.”
An example was the brief reopening of the Canaries. “We were able to put flights back on two days later; then only 10 days later, to be undone by lockdown. It’s meant you have constantly had to make quick decisions.”
He said Tui had worked to guarantee the health and safety regime on its flights and in its hotels, which was particularly important for older clients who traditionally travel in winter.
“There are some challenges for some parts of that market. Potentially that can only be really recovered with a vaccine or more of a stringent testing regime and I think unfortunately, the government has been too slow to really push that forward for the industry.”
Sofer was joined on the panel by Miles Morgan, owner of Miles Morgan Travel and Lisa Fitzell, Elegant Resorts managing director.
All agreed with panel chair Daniel Pearce, TTG Media chief executive, that “green shoots” were appearing in the industry.
“We don’t have an issue with demand, so the job we have to do is slightly different,” said Morgan. He said the focus was now about “beating ‘the V word’, because as soon as the vaccine gets the green light, all Tui’s systems will put prices up.”
Morgan said his message was “Book now, secure an amazing price.”
“The ones that do will look at that price in January and say ‘wow, what a great piece of advice’ – prices are amazing at the moment and the flexibility is sensational.”
Sofer said bookings for next year “are positive”. He said customers were trading up to higher-grade accommodation, all-inclusives and longer durations.
Fitzell predicted luxury beach would dominate her sales “for the first three-quarters of next year”, with tailor-made taking longer to recover. She said a survey in July with a 60% response rate found 85% would spend the same amount or more on a holiday.
The luxury specialist had introduced a price promise, which proved successful.
“We did more revenue in July than last year; we had some big whoppers, as we call them.”
Morgan said he had been astonished how cruise had led the recovery in his sales, with “a bigger percentage since July than it has ever been”.
“I thought a big, big job was needed to build confidence, but that’s certainly not my experience. For a long time, you were struggling to understand how cruise could restart, but with the vax and rapid testing, you can see how people will go on a ship. That’s why I’m more upbeat than I have been since March.”
Sofer also said cruise was selling well and predicted the FCDO ban would soon be lifted.
“I think we are getting very, very close to that and I’m hoping as we exit this lockdown that’s going to get lifted.”
Morgan said he had sought to use the crisis to his advantage.
“The way I always look at things is ‘where is the opportunity?’ I spent 14 years trying to educate customers about the value of booking with an agent. All of a sudden it gives me the best opportunity to do that.
“We really did look after everyone because we had one eye on the future.”