Abta chairman Noel Josephides gives his assessment of early 2016 trading but says official industry statistics only tell a partial story

I am finding it very hard to read the current market.

There is no doubt that Spain and Portugal are well ahead. According to GfK, Greece is much the same as it was at this time last year, which reflects Sunvil’s own position, and Turkey is down by 29%.

However, it is perhaps too early to draw any conclusions and, of course, we have no idea how the scheduled and no-frills airlines are doing.

As they now control capacity, the absence of any statistics from them leaves an all-important void in any analysis of how the overall market is faring. Capacity suddenly appears and is put on sale.

We can be certain that capacity has been moved from Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey to the western Mediterranean.

Leading operators are not saying they are down, which means that, so far, their clients must be paying the higher prices to holiday in Spain and Portugal.

Over peak periods the seat rates on airlines are rising by the day. Does this mean that there is considerable self‑packaging by the consumer that is not registered by GfK?

In the low season there is probably too much capacity, which explains some of the bus-ticket-level fares that are appearing. What we should be doing for the sake of the environment is mothballing excess aircraft but, unfortunately, this never happens.

West will lack capacity

Many are saying there will not be enough beds to accommodate all the tourists who are turning their backs on the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

It will be hard enough with the extra British and German tourists heading west but, as Putin has advised Russians not to visit Turkey, there could well be several million Russians adding to the congestion.

You never know what the impact is likely to be when the Russian market is involved, as they always book so late. Abta’s Earlybird campaign could not be more timely in 2016.

Private villas are big market

Those who believe that we will run out of beds in the western Mediterranean are also ignoring another very important factor.  There are tens of thousands of unlicensed villas and apartments that do not appear in any statistics.

The business of the no-frills carriers is anchored by overseas property owners, with friends and individuals booking flights to travel to these cheap, privately owned villas and flats.

This secondary market is huge and we cannot really measure it because we do not have any figures from the scheduled and no-frills carriers.

Finally, I believe that some of the slack has been taken up by operators and airlines targeting the long-haul market. The Dreamliner has opened up exciting new possibilities, and cheaper fuel makes long-haul flying very competitive.

Demand for Central and South America is rising as more direct flights are appearing. British Airways is now flying direct to Lima in Peru and San José in Costa Rica. Etihad, Emirates and Turkish Airlines are constantly revealing new routes.

Don’t forget that it doesn’t take long for the market to adjust and, if the prices are cheap enough, don’t be surprised if everyone flocks back to Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, especially as sterling has fallen a dramatic 10 cents against the euro in the last month.