Irish travel agents and suppliers are generally pleased with the level of holiday enquiries to date and bookings are on a par or slightly up on last year – but low deposit levels, payment plans and really good value are proving to be key factors in clinching sales. So too are all-inclusive prices, thus making cruising and escorted tours options of interest.
Compared to this time last year, travel agents countrywide are more positive about the prospects for summer sun holiday bookings, with enquiry levels quite high. Whereas people may not have taken a holiday last year, many seem determined to take one this year – even if it’s a one-week short-haul holiday – but they have still to be cautious about how they will pay for it. Consequently agents offering phased payments are likely to benefit. Meanwhile, corporate travel bookings are buoyant and are expected to continue to increase as they did in 2011.
While holiday prices from tour operators are competitive, and booking deposit levels are low, several agents said that when compared with dynamic packaging the latter were winning out – irrespective of departure date.
Derek Pheasey of Strand Travel in Waterford was generally positive: “Holiday enquiries are high and bookings are OK but could be better, while corporate bookings are doing well. The holiday bookings generally tend to be for shorter haul destinations than before.”
Catherine Myler of Newbridge Travel was finding dynamic packaging very competitive: “People are certainly enquiring, but their first comment is usually ‘I was on the Internet’, so one’s job is to convince them of the added value to be got from booking with an agent. Enquiry levels are certainly up – but more for one week than for two. Dynamic packaging options are usually cheaper when compared with Sunway, Falcon and Thomas Cook – across departure dates – and there is a bit more margin there to deal with. It is going to be a tough year! There seems to be a drop in Orlando and long-haul bookings and more emphasis on the ‘traditional’ destinations closer to home. The honeymoon market is also going well but that too is competitive – they may still be spending a minimum of €5,000 but we are not making €500!”
Gearoid Lynch of Mallow Travel was looking for more brochures: “We have had a lot of enquiries about holidays and bookings are on par – and there is a lot of interest in cruising. We received a lot of tour operator brochures before Christmas but such has been the demand that we need more now. Dynamic packaging tends to be winning out for February and March – and suits clients opting for 10/12-night holidays. Big factors in securing bookings are a low deposit and ability to pay weekly – I have a savings scheme, so that is proving popular.”
Doreen McKenzie of Knock Travel in Belfast and Bangor was “slightly optimistic”: “Last year was awful and pre-Christmas I think most agents in the North were fairly pessimistic about 2012, but we have been extremely busy with enquiries. Bookings are slower, but people have yet to get their January salaries. We are having a good start, but will know better at the end of the month, and weather can be a big dictator – we always pray for bad weather! Overall, we are slightly optimistic.
“In recent years we have had some 140 destinations ex-Belfast, but weekends away have slowed considerably – while those with homes in Spain are still travelling, but less often. Our Belfast office is to the east of the city, so clients tend to travel ex-Belfast, but we compare with ex-Dublin prices and many clients of the Bangor office travel ex-Dublin. There is now an easy bus connection, a good road and much better car parking at Dublin Airport. There can also be tax savings, particularly for a family of four, but timings may be better from Belfast – it can vary.”
Sharon Jordan of One Stop Touring Shop thinks 2012 will be unpredictable: “Last week bookings were surprisingly strong, but this week has started slower, so I think the year is going to be unpredictable! We are definitely up on last year, by about 35%, and America is stronger than Europe.”
Airlines are also generally cautiously optimistic. Simon Daly of British Airways revealed: “Forward bookings are very strong and we are 24% up for January. We had a super year in 2011, when Ireland was the highest area for growth in the world for BA, and we are still predicting growth for 2012, depending on how economies and Irish exports perform. Premium and non-premium cabins grew in equal measure last year, but we should expect slower growth in the non-premium cabin in 2012, while long-haul premium bookings continue to be strong. One concern is the North American exchange rate – the US Dollar is extremely strong right now.”
Catherine Grennell-Whyte of Swiss International Air Lines is “cautiously optimistic”: “January began a little slow, but we are expecting bookings to pick up and be on par by the end of the month. February, April, May and June bookings are doing well, while March is slow but picking up. March tends to be a second holiday month and we would have had groups that we are not getting now. I am cautiously optimistic and a key factor will be offering real value – and people are looking for all-inclusive pricing, including their bags, food, check-in, etc. Corporate bookings are buoyant and looking very positive – these picked up in 2011 and I expect this growth to continue in 2012.”
Yvonne Muldoon of United was also in positive mood: “Our initial outlook for 2012 is positive, with economies on both sides of the Atlantic recovering and some encouraging economic numbers coming out of the USA recently. Against this background, we are looking to build on our successful business model in Ireland with the launch of our new Dublin-Washington service in June, to run alongside our established Dublin-New York flight. In Shannon we will once again increase flights to 11 a week for the peak summer, while in Northern Ireland our daily Belfast-New York flight continues into its seventh year. We also expect strong inbound US traffic to the island of Ireland this summer.”