Agents report slow sales and more questions

Juliet Dennis

High street agents are reporting a slow sales recovery and a rise in customers questioning Covid rules in holiday resorts. The Advantage Travel Partnership

said bookings were “moving in a positive direction”, while individual agencies said sales were on a “slow burn” with some describing year-on- year booking drops as a “disaster”. Kelly Cookes, leisure director

at Advantage, said a third of members’ bookings last week were for 2020. “People are booking later,

to depart within five to seven days. They want to know their resort is not in lockdown before they go,” she said. For 2021, she said more clients

were opting for 10 or 14-night breaks instead of seven, spending more, and making group bookings. Tailor Made Travel chief executive

Simon Morgan called current trading “tough”. He said: “There’s conflicting information, uncertainty and local lockdowns are now fairly inevitable. “The travelling public are voting

to stay at home and focus on 2021.” Holidays to the Maldives, the Caribbean – particularly larger

resorts – and villa and apartment bookings were popular, he said. Deben Travel owner Lee

Hunt said: “Sales are 80% down versus last July, so a disaster really. The majority are for summer 2021 but nowhere near the volume we’d usually have.” Spear Travels chairman Peter

Cookson said sales were on a “slow burn” but added: “On the plus side, rebookings are up and cancellations well down.” Agents also reported facing more

questions, such as rules about wearing masks by the pool. Cookes

Agents say customers are booking closer to departure

said: “People accept the journey will be difficult; now they want to know what the holiday will feel like.” RB Collection joint managing

director Oliver Broad said “clients are confused” but this increased the need for advice from independent agents. Barrhead Travel has created an

information hub for staff as agents spend longer on bookings. President Jacqueline Dobson called for more di- rect communication from government “to manage that flow of information”. Agents also reported low footfall.

Carrick Travel director Tracey Carter said most were phoning or emailing.

River sector cheers FCO clarification

Travel Weekly reporters

Foreign Office confirmation that its advice against cruise travel applies only to “sea-going” ships has been welcomed by river specialists as a “victory for common sense”. The FCO had advised against all

cruise travel but last week updated its advisory to exclude river cruise, ferries and privately rented boats. The Department for Transport

later confirmed that the FCO’s advice for international cruises also applied to sailings in UK waters, casting doubt on Hurtigruten’s plans to run British Isles cruises in September. However, the line said it was in

talks and the cruises remain on sale. Andy Harmer, Clia UK & Ireland

director, said the river cruise update was “a very welcome boost”. Agents welcomed the decision.

Edwina Lonsdale, owner of Mundy Cruising, said “we are so excited about this opportunity to get our passengers back on board” and noted “a very strong appetite for river cruising” from customers. Phil Nuttall, chief executive of

the Travel Village Group, said he had “seen a pick-up” in river enquiries amid “more confidence”, but stressed “it was ridiculous” that river cruise had been included in the initial FCO advisory. James Cole, managing director of Panache Cruises, said the

River cruises are

always close to the shore – it never made sense to be treated any differently from hotels

clarification, along with low deposits, “exceptional deals” and flexible booking, meant now was “the best time in history” to book a river cruise. The Advantage Travel Partnership

is to launch a campaign to help agent members sell river cruise this summer. Uniworld’s UK managing director,

Chris Townson, said: “River cruise ships are small by comparison with

ocean liners and are always in close proximity to the shore, and therefore to local healthcare providers. It has never made sense for river to be treated any differently from hotels.” His point was echoed by Lucia

Rowe, UK and Ireland managing director at A-Rosa River Cruises, who said the decision was “great news”. Phil Hullah, chief executive of

Riviera Travel, said: “This is a victory for common sense. We’re sanitising the ships, not the holiday experience.”

Q US authorities last week extended the ban on cruise sailings in American waters until the end of September. The previous ‘No Sail Order’ ran to July 24.

23 JULY 2020 7

PICTURE: Shutterstock

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