Yesterday's announcement by prime minister Boris Johnson managed somehow to be both cautious and bullish at the same time as he outlined the ‘roadmap’ that the UK will follow towards the re-opening of a society free of restrictions.
Assuming all goes to plan, the roadmap will follow a four-stop process, leading to the removal of all current legal restrictions on COVID-19 and for everything to re-open by 21 June this year.
The importance of both the domestic and international travel sectors was stressed several times by Mr Johnson during his House of Commons speech and he promised that a travel resumption plan would be put forward by the government. Although international travel will not resume until 17 May at the earliest, he said that a new travel taskforce will report by 12 April so that people can ‘plan for summer’. What was most encouraging about the prime minister’s speech was the commitment for the resumption of international travel. “If things go well,” he said, “there is every chance of an aviation recovery later this year”. We expected that travel will be to a small number of destinations initially, but hopefully we will see that number grow as confidence about the vaccine increases and protocols are put in place around the world.
Vaccination programme and travel passports
The vaccination programme has been hugely successful in the UK. As of yesterday (22 Feb), nearly 17.7 million people have already been vaccinated (that’s over 26% of the total population). All over-70s and the vulnerable groups have been offered their first dose of the vaccine and this alone is expected to protect the great majority (88%) of the people statistically likely to become critically ill or die from COVID-19.
By May, all of the over-50s should have also received their first vaccination. The government is also currently discussing the feasibility of COVID-19 certificates/passports - a move that we see as a very positive step towards resuming international travel.
Huge pent up consumer for travel
It is no surprise that after an extremely wet, cold and frankly miserable British winter, most consumers are absolutely desperate to get away.
Major travel firms reported a surge in overseas holiday bookings following the prime minister's announcement of the road map out of lockdown. Despite some question marks over the exact date for the return of international travel, the UK's biggest holiday operator, Tui, said bookings jumped 500% overnight.
Holiday demand from the over 50s is increasing as shown in reports from mainstream British tour operators like Saga Holidays (one of the largest and most respected operators in the UK targeting the over 50s). Saga reported a huge spike in interest from older clients in recent weeks, with this confidence being linked to the arrival and rollout of various COVID-19 vaccines. They said that 2022 bookings were "beginning to take off" and Tui also reported a significant uplift in the number bookings from the over-50s market.
Trends observed by Saga include an increase in the number of people booking long-haul and once-in-a-lifetime adventures, with interest for these trips for 2022 up more than 90% on the same period last year. Chris Simmonds, Saga Holidays chief executive, said people over 50 are “hungry to travel”, that once-in-a-lifetime trips were proving particularly popular and that Saga’s customers were keen to "spoil themselves" after Covid curtailed many people’s travel plans last year.
What we're seeing
From our point of view at The Adventure Connection, we’re seeing a lot of activity and change going on product and product manager-wise. There have been very few company failures in travel here because UK Tour Operators have been protected financially by the government furlough scheme (where 80% of the wages of furloughed employees are being paid by the government).
Many are now sensing that they need to develop different destinations and use their time to consider different DMCs. The furlough scheme (and the overall upheaval within the industry) has meant that there have been many changes of staff over the last year, so we’ve kept very close to tour operators to make sure we have our finger on the pulse. That pulse was rather weaker a couple of months ago when a big second wave and the news of new variants broke, but we are now seeing pulses quickening along with the success of the vaccination programme. There is a sense of realism, that the crisis still has some time to run, but this is mixed with hope and optimism that we are nearing the end of the tunnel.
Over 50s - eager to travel & with money to spend
There were lots of positives to report at the Adventure Travel Networking event that we attended earlier this month too. A recent research study of UK consumers by AITO and Spike Insights was shared at the event, demonstrating that the over-50s are seen as the key target group for travellers returning in 2021/22.
The new report also shows that the majority of people’s finances have not been affected by the pandemic due to salary support by the government furlough scheme. Up to 9 million people have benefited from the scheme which has been in place for nearly a year.
The travel survey, published last week, said that 84% of respondents' finances had not been affected by the pandemic and that 94% would keep their travel budget the same or increase it for 2021/22. (source: AITO and Spike Insights).
The bank of England is also reporting a positive view for a strong economic recovery post COVID-19. Although the economy is expected to shrink 4.2% in the first three months of 2021, due to tight lockdown restrictions, it predicts that the UK will rebound strongly this year due to the success of the vaccine programme. Click image below to read article.
The UK tour operator point of view
At The Adventure Connection we are continually talking to our UK operator contacts - getting their views of the situation regularly and understanding what their current priorities are. Despite having to deal with re-bookings in January, they are now seeing consumers booking further in advance than normal and have started to see a large increase in bookings for 2022 already. Their view has been that as soon as the government sets out ‘the roadmap’ for lifting restrictions on international travel then there will be a ‘booking boom’ for 2021 travel, possibly in April, May or June.
There is a feeling of ‘a coiled spring’ in terms of travel demand. At the moment, the government here is holding that spring down, quite rightly so as we need to bring the virus under control until the majority of the public has been vaccinated; nevertheless, this coiled spring will be released before long and a surge in travel will certainly follow.
In some cases tour operators are adjusting their business strategy - offering more domestic product and adding European and ‘safer’ travel destinations - or reviewing their current product and providers in order to be ready for when the demand returns.
Buyers are still very much interested in developing and reviewing their product ranges and we have created a surprising number of lucrative partnerships over recent weeks.
Travel shows vital catalyst for trade connections
Travel trade shows this year have never been more important to showcase that you are open and ready for business. On our radar specifically are:
ITB Now - 09-12 March (virtual) Our Africa - 01-12 March (virtual)
LATA Expo, London - 14-16 June
Atta Experience Africa, London - 13-15 Sep
ATTA World Summit, Hokkaido, Japan - 20-23 Oct
If you are going to attend any of these shows please drop us a line and let us know and we can help put you in touch with buyers that may be attending too. Contact us here to send a quick email.
The upturn is coming… are you ready?
So with all of the above in mind, we are confident (and very excited!) about the upturn that is coming soon. Those who have prepared for it will make the most of the opportunities that will come with this. Please ask us about our Best Practice DMC Toolkit if you would like any help in preparing and to ensure your house is in order - being fully prepared for the introductions we make will maximise your chances of success.
“It is vitally important to prepare now or you may miss the first cycle of recovery."
If you would like to discuss how to best market your business in the UK and to make valuable trade partnerships contact us now.