As summer draws to an end, the outbound market is closer than ever to its pre-financial crisis high. Ian Taylor reports
Summer 2015 could be the season that the outbound sector finally returned close to its historic levels following the post-2008 downturn.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has yet to release departure figures for July and August, while data for the first six months of 2015 remains provisional, but all the signs are that this summer has been the best since 2008.
Latest ONS figures show an 11% year-on-year rise in holiday departures in the first six months of 2015 and a 10% increase from April to June. Departures for the 12 months to June were up 7%.
The trend is well established. In 2014, the number of people taking an overseas holiday rose 4% to 38.5 million. The total was well up on the low point of 2012, when 36.2 million took a holiday abroad, and on a par with 2009.
But it was still 15.4% down on 2008, when there were 45.5 million overseas holiday departures from the UK. The number of holidaymakers departing in July and August 2014 remained 12% down on 2008, representing almost 2.5 million fewer peak-summer holidays.
This year, there is no reason to think the 10% improvement from April to June has not continued through to September.
For the trade, the improvement may be reflected more in price than volume, a sign that capacity remains tight. Analyst GfK reported season-to-date bookings for this summer to the end of July 1% ahead of 2014 and the value of bookings up 3%.
Year-on-year bookings in July were up 1%, in line with the season, but average selling prices were 6% up on the high street and 5% direct.
GfK reported: “We’re not seeing significant discounting on last year’s prices.”
Tui reported a 5% increase in year-on-year bookings to the start of August, with a 1% rise in the average selling price.
GfK’s figures for August show no sign of the market slackening. At the same time, easyJet and Ryanair last week reported bumper passenger figures, with easyJet citing record load factors and a 7% rise in passengers in August as chief executive Carolyn McCall hailed “strong late-summer demand from UK passengers”. Ryanair reported a 10% increase in passengers on the same month in 2014.
The strong market has carried over into early bookings for summer 2016, with GfK reporting season-to-date bookings to the end of August up 11% on last year.
There have been some significant losers – chiefly Tunisia and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. But Greece appears to be flying high despite being caught up in the Syrian refugee crisis and facing a fresh political turmoil. GfK reported the country’s share of bookings in the last week of August up two percentage points on last year to 13%, with the average selling price up £45 year on year.
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