The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel has reported new enquiries are now making up more than half of all bookings.

In the week ending May 16, 57% of all bookings made by travel agents in the homeworking division of Midcounties Co-operative were brand new, as opposed to rebookings of cancelled or postponed holidays.

New bookings have represented more than 50% of bookings for the past four weeks as a result of the global shut down of travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as the homeworking group, which was set up eight years ago, reported a “significant rise” in new holiday sales.

Bookings which come from social media channels have also taken the highest share of bookings for the first time, for four consecutive weeks, with Facebook proving the most popular channel.

Social media took a 42% share of new bookings for the week ending April 26 and has increased over the last four weeks to 50%.

The group said short break deals for April 2021 and Easter 2021 and luxury, “bucket list” offers for next year were selling particularly well.

Sheena Whittle, head of The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel, said the positive news followed a decision to focus more on posting holiday offers in recent weeks compared with the start of the UK lockdown when agents were encouraged to put their efforts into useful content to engage with clients, rather than deals.

It was important agents carefully managed their time between rebookings and new enquiries, she said.

She said: “We’re reinforcing to our agents that they should balance caring for their customers who need re-booking with keeping their advertising going to find new customers. Despite the current situation, there are still customers out there.

“Each new booking, as well as every re-book, is a precious gift right now, so we are urging colleagues across the industry to work collaboratively to ensure we save every booking and quickly wrap up every new enquiry into a sale.

“It’s something we appreciate can be a challenge when many tour operators and airlines are operating at reduced staffing levels.

“We’re aware that many of our customers are taking a hit financially at the moment and we need to be sensitive to that when we engage with them on social media, but there does seem to be an appetite for holiday deals as customers dream of their post-lockdown adventures.”

The homeworkers are also being urged to spend their time preparing for a further upturn in sales by refreshing the information on their websites, going through their customer databases, preparing marketing plans and doing social media training.

The management team is also running activities for homeworkers, including Tik Tok Tuesdays, Wednesday Walks, pub quizzes and a virtual bar on a Friday to support agents during the lockdown as well as providing a central resource online with advice and wellbeing support on the Covid-19 crisis.

Whittle said: “If you’re a travel agent at the moment you are working long hours to care for your customers and often with no financial reward. It’s really important to take a break, to focus on something that’s not work to maintain your mental wellbeing.”

More at: Retailers gearing up for ‘phased’ reopening of shops