Agents report buoyant first weekend of sales after testing rules eased

Published on January 11th, 2022 on Travel Weekly.

Travel agents nationwide have enjoyed buoyant sales over the first weekend since the easing of testing requirements but reported mixed views on the year ahead.

Many firms said they were inundated with enquiries on the first Saturday after the government’s announcement it was scrapping pre-departure tests and PCR on-arrival tests.

Gemma Antrobus, managing director, Haslemere Travel, Surrey, said: “I am run off my feet. Enquiry levels are super high, as high as they were in October and November last year.

“I am now hearing back from clients I have not heard from during Covid and who have not travelled abroad. I feel optimistic: we are taking some steps on the road to recovery.”

Chris Bailey, owner of Bailey’s Travel, which has an agency in Leighton Buzzard and in Wellingborough, admitted he was “over-run with things to do” as a result of growing consumer confidence in the past week.

He said: “Sales have definitely accelerated this weekend. We did as much on Saturday as the whole of the previous week.”

But he conceded he would be “surprised if we got back to January 2020 [sales levels].”

Lee Hunt, owner of Deben Travel, Woodbridge, Suffolk, said his agency enjoyed a bumper Saturday, but cautioned: “We are not out of the woods yet.”

He said: “On Saturday we took more bookings than we have had in a single day for a couple of years, but we are still not busy enough. We are just about seeing the wood through the trees but still a bit of a distance to go.”

David McDonald, managing director of World Travel Lounge agency group in the northwest of England, was more confident, citing a “light at the end of the tunnel” which the trade was “fast approaching”.

He added: “This is a massive opportunity for agents, both high street and homeworkers, to capitalise on, show our expertise and why people should book with us.”

Chester-based Travology Travel director Lucy Clarke agreed:  “I feel it’s going to boom even more in the next few weeks, as people travel more and others see this. People are desperate to go and with the end of testing on return to the UK for the vaccinated it’s helped. “

But Richard Slater, owner of Henbury Travel, Macclesfield, Cheshire, predicted a late bookings surge and warned sales could “tail off” as availability dries up and prices rise. He added: “It will be slow. I don’t think [sales] will be back to 2020 [levels].”

Scottish agents reported a similar sales hike after restrictions were eased shortly after England.

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, which has agencies in Scotland and England, said: “The relaxation on testing definitely encouraged more sales last week.”

But she was wary about the weeks and months ahead, adding: “While we had a strong weekend, we are not complacent – we know there is a very long road to full recovery ahead of us this year.

“There is no doubt there is high demand for holidays this year, but our customers are worried about future changes at short-notice. They want assurances from the UK and devolved governments that there is a commitment to keep travel open without further arbitrary restrictions.”

Garry Butcher, operations and product manager, of Glasgow-based Merlin Travel Group, called current sales “steady”, adding it was “not like peaks used to be”.

Nevertheless, he said: “Sales have been good since the easing of rules on testing and have taken us closer to what we’d expect for this time of year.”