Coach and tour operators have seen an unexpected growth in bookings in the last fortnight.


Industry figures call it growing “vaccine confidence” about 2021.

Whilst there is no doubt that the pandemic continues to put huge pressure on lives and the NHS, this is a small amount of sunshine for the travel industry, which has had a tough year.

TUI, the UK’s largest tour operator, says 50% of bookings on their website are currently by over-50s. This was previously a smaller market for them.

National Express’s coach holiday businesses say bookings made by those 65 and over have increased by 185% in the last fortnight compared with last year.

Looking forward

“Since the announcement of the vaccine, it’s given our customer base, predominantly those over 65, increased confidence to book
and have that summer getaway in 2021″ says Jit Desai, head of holidays and travel at National Express.

“We launched the brochure for spring-summer 2021 just this weekend gone, and on Monday we took a week’s worth of bookings in a day and that’s continued so far,” says Mr Desai. “What the vaccine does is give certainty and confidence. “That then allows the customer and ourselves the ability to plan ahead”.

The pandemic has been devastating for the travel sector. Tens of thousands of jobs have gone in the UK. Millions of Britons cancelled breaks because the health situation was in flux across the world.

But National Express now points to returning confidence to travel.

“Many we’ve spoken to have had the first jab. They know in 12 weeks they’ll get a second jab. It gives them certainty that they can enjoy and look forward to their 2021 holiday. It is something to look forward to, to being with people, with friends, like minded and from the same generation.”

Dawn and Ray – 75 and 78 years old – are from Hampshire and are due to have their first jab soon. They have just booked five UK holidays.

“We are raring to go once we’ve got that vaccine, we are really looking forward to it – both of us. We are going to Wales, Leicestershire, to York where there is a mystery tour – and to the Cotswolds'”, Dawn said.

For Dawn and Ray, it’s the ease of coach travel that’s appealing, as well as the safety. She adds “they’ve looked after us so well in the past, the coaches are clean, we’ll all wear masks, we all look after each other.”

At the moment, 90% of the bookings with National Expresses coach businesses are UK based, so it looks like another good year for the staycation.

“European bookings are lower because of the uncertainty on the continent,” says Mr Desai. “The UK wins because of the lack of need
to quarantine. And uncertainty about the moves other governments might make whilst away also creates fear.”

Travel to Europe

It’s not just UK breaks that are selling. The UK’s largest tour operator TUI, famous for its sun-drenched European beach holidays, says there has also been a change in the last fortnight.

“We’re seeing a customer base or age group that wasn’t booking before, that is starting to book,” says Andrew Flintham the MD of TUI UK. “The over 50s, we assume, is on the back to the vaccine news.”

Whilst TUI UK boss acknowledges that “the market is still depressed and it’s not where we want it – we are seeing glimmers of hope.”

There are also interesting changes emerging in the types of breaks holidaymakers plan to take and the months they’re planning to travel. “People are booking later into the summer, hedging their bets” said Mr Flintham. “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.”

Holidays with grandma and grandpa?

As TUI analysed its recent booking data, one trend they spotted is the emergence of large, multigenerational 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” Mr Flintham explains.

After such a bad 10 months, and TUI cancelling all holidays until the middle of February at the earliest because of the new lockdown, how does the rest of the summer look?

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

For those who’ve watched the paralysis brought upon the travel industry since last winter, a morsel of good news about customers booking again is being celebrated.

“This is fantastic news and to be hugely welcomed by an industry that has been utterly devastated by the pandemic”, says Sophie
Griffiths, editor of Travel Trade Gazette. “Ten months into this crisis and the industry has still received zero dedicated support from the government despite being unique as a sector in terms of giving out thousands in refunds while getting next to nothing back in for 2020.”

(Story source: BBC News)

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