For an increase in bookings and confidence has been reported in the early days of 2022, suggesting many holidaymakers believe the worst of the pandemic is on its way out.
Before Covid, January was always a busy time for bookings as people hunted out the best bargains for their summer getaways abroad.
Last year was all about cancellations and re-bookings. So we asked several independent travel agents or consultants in Mansfield and Ashfield to see if the hassle of multiple testing and a multitude of restrictions were having an effect this time round.
All said business was recovering well, despite the spread of the Omicron variant, and they revealed many people were spending more on holidays with money saved during the pandemic.
Hays Travel, which has branches at the Four Seasons Centre in Mansfield and on Low Street in Sutton, said it had seen “a significant increase in enquiries, both in branches and online”.
Katie Carr, manager of the Mansfield branch, reported that her shop had been “busy in the first few days of trading in 2022”. And the company’s owner, Dame Irene Hays, told the Chad: “It is clear there is still a huge demand for holidays, and that people are very much looking forward to being able to go away this year.
"Our customers are looking for support to help them choose the holiday they want, and for the travel agent to be there for them.”
Hays revealed that more than half of their 2022 customers (53 per cent) were new to the firm, with the most popular destinations being Spain, Dubai, Turkey and the USA.
Others were booking worldwide cruises or ‘bucket list’ destinations, not just for this year but also for 2023 and 2024 “to be sure of getting their first choice of price and accommodation”.
The various restrictions and testing regulations around the world continue to frustrate and confuse travellers, say agents.
But this has actually helped the business of personal travel consultants, who have included testing advice within the service they offer to holidaymakers.
Craig Norwood, of Mansfield Woodhouse, launched a consultancy with his partner, Janet, as franchisees of Not Just Travel, which is a subsidiary of Hays, only a year before Covid struck.
He said: “As well as finding the best deal and value, we give our customers all the Covid guidance they need for the country they are travelling to.
"Testing means cost implications for families, and adds an extra layer to what people have booked. So it's a question of navigating the ever-changing landscape.
"With us, we are their one point of contact and the one phone number they need. We will look after them before they book, while they’re travelling, while they are on holiday and when they return. We are personal travel consultants, available 24/7.”
After a period dominated by cancellations, Craig said he was now noticing changes in holiday habits.
"People are looking for bigger holidays if they didn’t travel in 2020 or 2021,” he said. “If they didn’t have a holiday last year, they’re looking to have a better one this year.
"Families still want their bucket-and-spade-type holidays to Spain, and couples still want their cruises.
"But more people are wanting something different – an expedition-type holiday or ‘bucket-list’ holiday. Some are even booking as far ahead as 2023.”
Also based in Mansfield are vastly experienced consultants Martyn and Zoe Coope, who are travel and cruise specialists for GoCruise, which is part of the Fred.Olsen group.
They focus on national and international bookings, rather than local trade, but Zoe confirmed: “We are extremely busy. Things are definitely looking up.
"Cruises were the worst-hit sector in the travel industry, and a lot of people had their cruise holidays moved on a year or two.
"It means some are going on six or seven cruises this year – and they are not holding back with their spending either.
"Because they have not been going out, they have money saved and they are ready to spend it, perhaps on add-ons to their bookings.”
Zoe admitted that customers needed “more hand-holding” because of the Covid restrictions across the world.
"With all the testing and the filling-in of forms, our workload has increased threefold as we give the advice and guidance they need,” she said.
"But it amazes me how adept they all are, even our older customers. For instance, the ticketing process has moved to the apps of the various cruise lines, and everything has to be downloaded. But customers are not fazed by it at all.”
Zoe, Craig and Hays were all delighted by this week’s decision by the government to scrap pre-departure tests for holidaymakers returning to England.
Those arriving back will also no longer need to isolate until they get a receive a negative PCR test result. Instead they must simply take a lateral flow test on day two.
Cath Cann, who runs the Mansfield-based My Travel Guys agency with husband Ian, described this change as “a great announcement that will save around £50 per person".
Self-employed franchisees Cath and Ian have built a successful business over the last six years, specialising in what they call ”long-haul, tailor-made, luxury” holidays.
The pandemic hit so hard they refunded an estimated £1.5 million to customers who had to cancel their breaks.
"And the frustrating thing is that we don’t get any income if customers don’t travel,” Cath said.
"It’s still tough, but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel now. We’re getting more enquiries and people starting to book and travel again.
"People have been deprived of travel and spending time with their loved ones.
"Of our clients, who would usually have one or two holidays per year, they are now saying they will have three or four to make up for lost time and memories.
"More people are booking long-haul destinations and taking ‘bucket-list’ trips. Things they have always wanted to do but never got round to.
"They are also spending more on holidays. They’re upgrading to a more luxurious hotel or room type, and also upgrading their flights from economy class to premium or business.
"We highly recommend booking with a travel agent because they give that extra level of service and support, and help with the mind-boggling travel requirements.”