Frontline agents hope word of mouth from travellers will boost bookings after the announcement of relaxed quarantine restrictions failed to produce a bumper crop of new summer sales.
Most agents reported growing consumer confidence, with more clients committing to balance payments for later in the year, but no significant uplift in summer bookings following news that holidaymakers would not have to self-isolate after travel to amber destinations.
The Travel Network Group said the UK continued to be the preferred destination for members’ clients this summer, while Advantage Travel Partnership reported sales were “relatively steady” but still “way behind what we would expect at this time of year”.
Dawson & Sanderson saw sales double on the two days after the government’s announcement but said this was 40% off sales levels for the same days in 2019.
Managing director Chris Harrison cited the complexity of travel and testing concerns as barriers to travel, adding: “It will take time to build over coming weeks. There are lots of questions being asked by customers during the enquiry stage.”
Many in the trade admitted they are pinning their hopes on word of mouth to kick-start business.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said positive comments about holidays and pictures of “empty sunbeds and sunny skies” on social media could boost bookings. “The human instinct of jealousy will kick in,” he said.
Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson agreed: “Once people start travelling more and people post on social media, we will hopefully get some traction.”
Holidaysplease director Richard Dixon said “confidence will grow” as friends and families travel but also called for a wider destination choice. He added: “An expanded green list would be a massive help.”
Harrison agreed, saying a broader list of mainstream destinations would show travel was opening up. “Consumers need to see positive consistency,” he said.
Agents on a Travel Weekly webcast also raised concerns about capacity.
The Travel Snob owner David Walker said: “We cannot be fussy. You look at something and go back and it’s gone.”
Sutton Travel managing director Andy Tomlinson urged operators to “hold their nerve” on capacity. “What we don’t want is to get communications like last summer to say ‘this flight has been withdrawn’,” he added.