Holiday companies have reported an increase in bookings as the UK’s coronavirus vaccine rollout gives people hope that they will soon be able to travel overseas again.
Despite a series of negative travel announcements in recent days, including the closure of air corridors and words of caution from ministers over foreign holidays, there are signs that those among the first in line for the vaccinations are starting to plan trips, and that consumers are hopeful about taking a break later this year.
The travel association Abta said it was hearing from members that the over-50s represented a much higher proportion of early bookers than normal.
Saga, which specialises in holidays for the over-50s, reported rising numbers of bookings for this year and next. Traffic to its bookings website was up by 16% in the first two weeks of this year, compared with the first two weeks of December, while sales made through Saga had doubled over the same period. The interest comes despite the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying it was too early to plan for summer holidays this year because of travel restrictions and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, suggesting on Monday that holidays abroad may not be a given.
Bookings for long-haul trips for 2022 have also surged, suggesting an appetite for “once-in-a-lifetime holidays”, Saga said, while people are booking for longer even for short-haul destinations.
Saga said 70% of short-haul-stay bookings between November 2021 and January 2022 were for 21 nights or longer.
Chris Simmonds, the chief executive of Saga Holidays, said: “Many of our guests are hopeful that they will be able to travel again soon, with the vaccine providing them the optimism they need to start planning ahead.
“Of course, given we cater exclusively for people aged over 50, many of our customers are near the top of the queue for a vaccine, which is giving them the confidence to start thinking about travelling again, as well as returning to other parts of normal life.”
The tour operator Tui said older travellers were making up more of its bookings than usual.
A spokesperson said: “We’re seeing more interest in holidays from an age group that wasn’t coming through before, with the over-50s starting to book, we assume, on the back of the positive vaccine news.
“Since the end of last year, bookings from this group have accounted for 50% of all our web bookings, as customers long for a sunshine break later in summer, in particular in Greece, Turkey or the Balearics.”
It also reported customers booking longer breaks than previously, with many opting for 10, 11 or 14 nights instead of seven. It suggested this was to make up for not having had a holiday in 2020.
The airline easyJet said its holiday bookings for the summer were 250% higher than they had been at this point last year.
Its chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “We have seen easyJet holidays bookings from our over-50s customers increase over the last few weeks in comparison to pre-Christmas, which suggests a further confidence boost from the vaccine rollout.”
Lundgren said there was “pent-up demand”, adding: ”We have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can.”
Skyscanner, which offers flights and hotels via its website, said searches and bookings remained lower than normal for the time of year but there were signs that activity was picking up.
Searches were up by 12% over the week and bookings by 7%, with July 2021 the most searched for month.
Other firms reported bookings were higher for this September and October, suggesting consumers were hopeful that vaccines may have been delivered and travel restrictions lifted by the autumn.
On Monday, tough new testing rules came into effect that require all those arriving in the UK to show a negative Covid-19 test or face a potential £500 fine. The UK has also closed all its travel corridors, meaning people arriving will be required to quarantine.
Meanwhile, an official close to the Australian government has warned that tourists could face “substantial border restrictions” for most of 2021. Returning Australian travellers must pay about AU$3,000 (£1,700) to quarantine inside a hotel room for 14 days.