Customer confidence has been “hit hard” by lockdown – but bookings are still being made for summer 2021 and into 2022 with agents urge not to “write off” sales this peaks.

That’s the message from panellists on a Travel Weekly webcast, which heard there are encouraging signs of willingness to book holidays.

Alan Cross, head of trade sales at Jet2holidays, said: “Customers’ confidence has been hit, and it’s been hit hard, but there’s a lot of pent-up demand. There are encouraging signs.

“There’s never been a better time to be a travel agent, as customers want that reassurance.

“The doors may be closed, but [agents] are open for business. When the demand is back, the travel agents are sitting in a good position.”

Sandra Corkin, managing director of Northern Ireland agency Oasis Travel, has seen “a real nervousness with people” in the latest lockdown.

She had hoped January sales could reach about 60% of normal levels but has lowered that to 30%.

About 10% of sales are for 2022 – but that means a long time for the agency to wait for its income.

Paul Cleary, managing director of long-haul specialist Caribtours, reported “an incredibly good December” and had hoped for January sales to be about 55-60% of normal.

However, he said the latest lockdown meant new business is “nowhere near the numbers we wanted, but it was a significant amount” – about £500,000 across three days last week.

Furthermore, people are becoming used to lockdowns, so Cleary anticipates bookings will revive.

“In November, we saw the first couple of weeks were very, very quiet and then it picked up…so I don’t I think we can write off peak season yet,” he said.

“There is every opportunity as the vaccine news rolls out…we could, in the second half of January and into February, see a pick-up and possibly just an elongated peak season.”

Cross pointed out that working from home means many travel agencies are more accessible than before.

He said about 17% of business from agents came after 5.30pm during 2018 – now it’s about 21%.

“It just shows you that the agents are adapting to suit the customer’s requirements and needs out there,” he told the webcast.

Corkin agreed, saying her six branches had their shutters up, showing the agency is open for business even though staff are working from home.

“The windows are lit up with very clear instructions on how customers can contact us,” she said, adding: “We are more active on social media than ever before. And we’re also hosting virtual events.

“We’ve been continually engaging with our customers.”

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