Think hardly anyone has booked holidays for this year?
hink again. At least 400,000 overseas holidays are already on Irish travel agents’ books for 2021, most of them between July and September.
That’s not due to any January rush. Yes, some of us may be taking a punt on the likes of Ryanair’s ‘Jab and Go’ sales, but those 400,000 bookings are actually holidays postponed from last year, rescheduled during spring and early summer as we battled the travel chaos of Covid’s first wave.
“At the time we were kind of guessing as to when it would be safe to travel,” Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA), told me when I called to see how January was going.
“Most people know from year to year when they will be taking their holidays; they have two weeks in July or August. Being the high season, they just transferred from, let’s say, July 4, 2020 to July 4, 2021, and stuck with that.”
An understandable decision. But what happens now?
Covid-19 is surging harder than ever. Vaccines are coming, but rollout has been sluggish and timetables far from certain.
Embattled airlines are slow to commit to summer schedules, and testing, quarantine and traffic light confusion abounds. We’re all watching for what’s next.
“Vaccination is what everyone is waiting for,” Dawson says.
Already, that feels like the motto for 2021. Normally, January is a bumper month for travel bookings, with around 30pc of all holidays sold. This year is “totally different”, Dawson says, but it’s not complete gloom.
“More than a trickle” of enquiries is coming in, particularly from older travellers, he reveals. They’re early in line for vaccines, and it’s possible that proof of vaccination may be a requirement for future travel. Older people have cocooned hard, and may be less restricted by parenting, work or mortgage commitments.
“They’re very cautious and careful,” as Dawson puts it, but he definitely senses a pent-up demand. Travel agents are keeping an eye on a possible early burst of travel after Easter or in early summer.
Nothing is certain, of course, so here’s some January advice. If you’re thinking of chancing it on a flight sale, read the change and cancellation policies carefully. If you rescheduled a holiday last year, keep in touch with your agent. If you’re thinking of booking after Easter, “give it another week or two and let’s see how vaccinations are going”, Dawson says.
“We just don’t want another debacle… People will not risk what happened to them in 2020 again, and travel agents will not risk people with airlines or suppliers who messed them around… They certainly won’t risk people’s money again. That’s for sure.”