Summer 2019 bookings fell sharply last week following a spate of media stories warning of cancelled holiday flights or passports being rendered invalid post-Brexit.

Yet season-to-date bookings for the summer remain 4% up year on year and were even running ahead of last January in the days before the media blast on Monday and Tuesday of last week.

Analyst GfK reported summer 2019 bookings in the week to January 19 up 1% year on year and the season-to-date total up 5% at the close of that week. Bookings on January 21, dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ as supposedly the most-depressing day of the year, were up 5% year on year for this summer.

But sales crashed from Tuesday last week, with GfK reporting the week’s bookings down 9% year on year by Saturday January 26.

The fall followed one consumer media report after another suggesting that “up to five million flights” could be cancelled in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The story was based on a statement by airline association Iata almost a week earlier warning that a proposed EU cap on UK airlines’ existing capacity on routes to Europe might lead to cancelled flights.

Three days later the national media picked up on a government warning to travellers to check passports are sufficiently up to date for EU travel if there is no deal. The Express reported “3.5m passports could be INVALID after Brexit”.

The damage was immediate. GfK senior client insight director David Hope said: “Sunday and Monday [last week] were strong, but [the market] dropped off a cliff and declined through the week.”

Yet continual negative reports and heightened uncertainty appear not to have fully dented the overall market.

Summer 2019 bookings remained 4% up year on year going into this week and bookings for the current winter season up 5%. Revenue for the summer season to date was 1% up year on year and for the current winter about flat.

However, the comparison is with an unprecedentedly strong January last year. Summer 2018 bookings were up 8% year on year in the week to January 13, 2018, 8% in the week to January 20 and 11% in the week to January 27.

Hope reported family and all-inclusive bookings driving the current market, with Turkey and North Africa especially strong.

Family bookings for summer 2019 remained 7% up year on year for the season to the end of last week and all-inclusive bookings up 10%.

Season-to-date summer bookings were up by almost half year on year to Turkey and by two-thirds to North Africa, including Tunisia.

How are the January peaks for you?

Amanda Matthews, Designer Travel: “It’s been a tough January. There are lots of enquiries but people are taking longer to make a decision. We’re only a little bit up year on year and it’s a case of fighting for every booking.”

Don Bircham, Hays North West: “We anticipated margins would go down, especially with Thomas Cook dropping price parity, but they seem broadly in line with last year.” He reported a 16% rise in revenue year on year and bookings up £100 in value.

Paul Waters, Premier Travel: “Converting enquiries into bookings has been tougher than last January.”

Rad Sofronijevic, Midcounties Cooperative Travel: “It slowed down towards the end of last week and the expected boost of pay day didn’t transpire.”

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