Agents say customers are favouring “familiar destinations” when they next travel, with most bookings so far this peaks for farther out as uncertainty remains over when restrictions might be lifted.

The Advantage Travel Partnership saw sales in the week commencing January 4 at a “similar rate” to the previous seven days, with the Canary Islands, New York and Greece popular.

Leisure director Kelly Cookes said bookings data “may indicate a trend towards familiar destinations” and noted that 40% were for departures between September and December 2021 but “only 17%” were for departures before the end of May and 16% for June to August. Bookings for 2022 accounted for 27% of those made with Advantage members.

Cookes said the booking pattern “shows that consumers are lacking confidence to travel in the short-term, likely due to the changing travel landscape”.

She added: “When the inbound testing announcement was made, there was a noticeable drop in conversions and the feedback we have received from our members is that customers are still enquiring, but they are nervous about committing until there is more clarity around the new protocols.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said “customer confidence took a dip” last week as a result of further restrictions being implemented, noting “very little demand” for the first four months of 2021.

She predicted “pent‑up demand will be released” when restrictions ease, with sales for later in the year “performing better”.

“Customers are booking further in advance than they usually would in January,” said Dobson, who said “familiar destinations” such as Tenerife, Turkey and Alicante have proven popular for future bookings.

Long-haul is performing better for Barrhead in late 2021 and into 2022 than some short-haul destinations, Dobson said, putting the trend down to “the value on offer – particularly for the US and the Caribbean”.

“Customers have a lot of questions for our agents and we’re seeing demand for much more information than usual before people commit to booking,” she added. “With so many changes and new updates coming in daily, we’re focusing on ensuring our people have access to the right resources and advice to support our customers; it’s clear that holidaymakers need genuine expertise and advice more than ever before.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand that will be released when lockdown restrictions can begin to ease and we can only hope that will trigger a strong lates market.”

However, she noted that “for this to happen we urgently need the UK government to look at realistic testing solutions that will allow international travel to get moving and to boost customer confidence.”

Meanwhile, Tui UK and Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham said: “We’re seeing a customer base or age group that wasn’t booking before, that is starting to book. The over 50s, we assume, is on the back to the vaccine news.”

While he acknowledged that “the market is still depressed and it’s not where we want it – we are seeing glimmers of hope”.

Half of Tui’s bookings via its website are currently by over-50s.

Flintham told the BBC: “People are booking later into the summer, hedging their bets.

“More July and August and a lot of demand for September and October.

“People are booking longer holidays, we’re seeing more people booking ten or eleven or 14 nights rather than seven. People are maybe catching up on what they’ve missed.”

An emerging trend identified in analysis of recent booking data is large, multi-generational group bookings.

“It is family time we’ve all missed. We can’t get away from our own families, but our broader families we can’t see, and that’s feeding into our choices” Flintham said.

“I think the summer holiday is on. I think we just need time for people to get that confidence, but yes, we think there will be a good summer this summer.”

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