Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson was equally confident, adding: “We’re seeing consistent double digit growth year-on-year, with up to 25% growth across the group on some of our busiest days.
“Looking ahead to the rest of the year, I think we will see customers returning to book second, third and even fourth holidays. Feedback from branches already shows some customers are booking multiple trips in one go [in January].”
Cruising for the budget-conscious
Bookings for ex-Southampton and Barbados sailings had been “extremely popular” last month, Dobson continued. “All-inclusive or full-board cruises are the most asked-for options as customers look for price certainty and ways to budget holidays,” she added.
InteleTravel reported a 14% increase in bookings during the first 22 days of January, compared with the same period last year, and an 11% spike in average booking values, with one InteleTravel consultant taking a £253,000 booking.
Tricia Handley-Hughes, InteleTravel managing director UK and Ireland, said: “We’re having a very strong peak booking period with customers wanting to confirm holiday options early and take full advantage of great prices on offer. Cruising is increasingly popular.”
Stoke-on-Trent-based Blue Bay Travel, meanwhile, had already chalked up its “best January on record”, adding there were “no signs of things slowing down”.
“January has been everything we hoped it would be,” added Blue Bay Travel product management director Greg Armstrong. “We had already exceeded our total January 2023 performance by the start of the third week of the month.”
Agents are not without their challenges, though. Despite his agency recording its best January in more than 30 years, Thompson Travel manager Jason Calvin said airline schedule changes and cancellations were keeping his team on their toes.
Calvin added with the agency in Portadown open only for a few hours on Saturdays, traditionally the biggest day of the week for travel agency sales, the business was seeing booking spikes on Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
Freeman-Owen highlighted how sensitive sales were to the weather. “It has a big impact on people,” he said. “If it’s horrible out, people won’t come. Today [24 January], it’s more settled and people are coming in – peaks is very weather-related.”
Not all plain sailing
Sunways Travel office manager Russell Lelean said the “only challenge” the “incredibly busy” Dartford-based agency had experienced came after the high-profile recent gang violence in Ecuador. “We’ve had two bookings affected by the events in Ecuador,” he revealed. “One large booking unfortunately cancelled; the other party have already changed their mind and amended their cruise.”
A strong lates market is another factor. “While bookings for the summer are strong, we are continuing to see demand for lates, with 14% of all bookings made [in the week of 15 January] coming for travel before the end of February,” added Advantage’s Cookes.
Travel Counsellors’ customers are “mostly” choosing to book for summer 2024, with July the strongest departure month in the third week of January, said Hughes. “We’ve also seen a sense of urgency among customers looking to secure the best holiday experiences for a memorable 2024,” she revealed.
Blue Bay Travel’s Armstrong said: “Our most popular season for travel is summer 2024, which has taken up 52% of the share of the bookings in January.”
Abta director of communication Graeme Buck said many Abta members were reporting “extremely strong sales”. He added destinations such as Spain, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, which offer good value, were performing well, with bookings coming in both for last-minute departures as well as holidays later in the year.