So far, holiday bookings are up this year, and the traditional ‘top destinations’ of Spain and Portugal are as popular as ever, but recent weeks have been a tough time for travel consultants as concern – much unfounded – about the coronavirus increases, reports Neil Steedman.
At this year’s Holiday World Show in Dublin, John Spollen, President, Irish Travel Agents Association, said: “Bookings are up this year, showing confidence in the country and our economy. The most popular trends for holidays this year are soft adventure holidays, active holidays and cruise holidays, with an increased interest in trips to exotic, far-flung destinations.” These comments were echoed by travel agents in all four provinces, with one adding that bookings had come significantly earlier – but another suggesting that tour operators need to be more adventurous.
Add in other trends this year, including growing interest in sustainable travel, wellness travel, experiences, multi-generational travel and solo travel, and “summer sun” now embraces a far wider and far more varied portfolio than the traditional beach holiday for 2+1 or 2+2 families.
The Swedish 17-year-old Greta Thunberg has stirred the young (and not so young) generation to voice their concerns about climate change. While many of those may not, as yet, be booking overseas travel, you can be sure that they are doing their best to influence their parents’ holiday-booking patterns.
To the cynical, the growing number of airlines, cruise lines, hotels and visitor attractions that are eliminating or reducing single-use plastics may seem tokenism – but count up the global magnitude of all these efforts and the result is huge. They could also be a factor influencing environmentally-aware clients.
No matter what type of holiday they are booking, people now more than ever want ‘experiences’ – be it a meal or overnight stay with a local family, a cooking lesson, VIP access to an event, a yoga session, volunteering in a local enterprise, or whatever. So it is easy to see why ‘soft adventure’ holidays are one of those popular trends – and increasing the amount of hard cash that is left in destinations visited supports sustainability and creates a ‘feel-good’ factor.
The traditional family holiday group is fast expanding at both ends. Tour operators and cruise lines report an increase in bookings for multi-generational families – and in some cases ‘skip-generation families’ with grandparents just taking their grandchildren – and are offering more packages that suit the needs of solo travellers.
The latter will, no doubt, continue to be boosted by the fact that in 2020 Generation Z will begin entering adulthood and its oldest members will be graduating from college. This generation is already travel-savvy and heavily involved in trip planning – and will soon have the money and autonomy to take control of their own trips for the first time.
As the coronavirus continues to spread outside of mainland China (albeit at a much lower level than the fear and concern that it seems to be creating), travel consultants are having to cope with cancelled flights and cruise itineraries, cancellations by clients and rescheduling of their flights and itineraries.
However, while travel consultants can present the facts they should not try to influence cancellation decisions, but simply provide them with the most reliable information for them to make that decision on their own.
By the way, as travel insurance policies do not usually cover illness outbreaks such as the new coronavirus – unless the policy includes ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage – travel agencies and tour operators might well consider advising customers who are concerned to increase their travel insurance to include that extra cancellation protection.
Finally, a good website for keeping up to date with the facts about the spread of the coronavirus is: www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
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Opportunities to discover the Canary Island of Gran Canaria in a completely different way this summer (as well as Tenerife and La Gomera) are the walking trails being offered by the new CanariaWays.com.
Also ‘new’ this year is Holiday World Maspalomas, which has reinvented itself to provide Gran Canaria with the most complete leisure space in the Canary Islands, offering more than 30 attractions complemented by shows, hobbies, gastronomic venues, and much more.
The central Mediterranean island of Malta will be a destination to watch this year, with Irish visitors having risen by almost 30% last year, boosted by twice-weekly Ryanair flights from Cork. A big increase can also be expected this year, thanks to daily Ryanair flights from Dublin commencing on 26 March and increased promotional activity by the Malta Tourism Authority.
The ever-popular Balearic Island of Majorca will have a new gateway from Ireland this year, with Ryanair-owned Lauda launching a new service to Palma de Mallorca from Ireland West Airport starting on 31 March.
The Costa Daurada resort of Salou is a popular destination with Irish visitors, particularly families, with its great beaches and easy access to PortAventura, Tarragona and Barcelona.
A recent new addition is the spectacular 6.5km Coastal Path that runs from the Pilons monument at Llevant Beach around the coastline to the Salou Lighthouse, offering great viewpoints along the way.
New destinations from Irish-owned tour operator Sunway include Corfu, Dubrovnik, Ibiza, Menorca, Rhodes and Sardinia – as well as city-break programmes to Amsterdam, Budapest, Iceland, Krakow, Lisbon, Malta, Porto and Prague – all new and bookable on Sunway’s new agents booking platform.
Capacity to Turkey has also been increased, with a new Wednesday flight from Dublin to Izmir operating weekly on Wednesdays from 3 June to 23 September – and a 30kg baggage allowance!
The luxury 5* Sani Resort has also been added to Sunway’s Halkidiki programme.
For a limited time period (up to 2 March), Topflight is offering families booking a summer 2020 Lake Garda holiday a free Gardaland pass for everyone who books one of its selected Lake Garda family properties. The offer applies on every date throughout the summer season and will allow families to experience the adrenaline of Italy’s largest theme park at no extra cost.
Gardaland offers themed lands with fantasy, adventure, adrenaline-pumping rides, and a Sea Life Aquarium, along with Peppa Pig Land for the younger children, while summer 2020 will see the opening of the Legoland Water Park. Gardaland also offers a personalised, tailor-made service to guests with special needs such as visual limitations, reduced mobility, autism and down syndrome.
Belfast-based Travel Solutions is again offering the Sunny Beach resort in Bulgaria from 26 May to 15 September, with a choice of four 3* accommodations – two apartments and two hotels – and weekly Tuesday Jet2 flights from Belfast International to Bourgas.
TUI Ireland’s 2020 offering includes long-haul destinations such as the Maldives, Bali, Thailand and Mexico, as well as destinations closer to home including Spain and Italy.
From May, TUI Blue will become TUI’s flagship hotel comprising three strands, with TUI Family Life being rebranded as TUI Blue Families and the adults-only TUI Sensimar becoming TUI Blue for Two, along with TUI Blue for All.