Bookings for summer sun holidays back to pre-pandemic levels despite rising prices

Sun-seeking Irish holidaymakers have seen a near-record surge in bookings, with travel agents, airlines and cruise lines poised to return to pre-Covid business levels for the first time in four years.

The surge in bookings in 2023 came despite rising prices and growing competition for top-notch resort accommodation in the most popular holiday destinations.

The price of some sought-after holiday packages has increased by almost 25 per cent compared to 2020/21 due to lower capacity, increased demand across Europe and higher input costs, particularly for aviation fuel.

While some luxury, high-end vacations have increased in price by 30 percent or more.

Despite this, Irish holidaymakers have made an effort to book early in order to get early deals.

Irish holidaymakers are worth €8 billion to the global travel industry – with 9.4 million outbound trips from Ireland in 2019.

Claire Doherty, product director for the Department of Travel, said January summer holiday bookings were back to pre-pandemic levels.

“The holidays are back with a bang,” she said.

“This January has reached pre-pandemic levels as people scramble to ensure they get the best holidays after years of missing out.

“Due to the lower flight capacity, fares are very high and availability is already an issue for most of 2023.

“Some of our most popular hotels in Italy are already sold out for the next few months, with great interest for the second half of the year.

“Those hoping for a good deal will likely be very disappointed as both flights and hotels are reporting very high occupancy rates for this year,” she added.

Some Italian resorts are heavily booked, with availability in some parts of Lake Como only remaining for September.

The travel department, which offers guided group tours, said Spanish destinations now offer excellent value for money, particularly for value-added breaks. But people also travel further afield.

“Our long-haul trips are also selling well, which surprised even us,” said Ms. Doherty.

“While we know travel is back and hoteliers and tour guides are waiting to welcome visitors, we expected it would take time for people to feel comfortable traveling longer distances, but luckily we proved ourselves wrong proven.

“Tours to Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Japan and South Africa are selling fast.

“People want to seize the day and experience the world after being denied that ability.”

TUI boss Sebastian Ebel said he expects significant increases for the 2023 season.

“The summer of 2022 has been very encouraging. Although restrictions were lifted late, our bookings were at a good 90 percent of 2019 levels, almost at pre-pandemic volume, while our average earnings were significantly higher,” he said.

Traditional holiday destinations such as Spain, Portugal, the Canary and Balearic Islands and the Greek islands were once again very popular, said Ebel.

“Travel means a lot to people.”

Long-haul flights and leisure travel have also rebounded in bookings, although the sector still lags behind with pre-pandemic operations.

Prices have increased significantly as long-haul travel is exposed to fuel prices.

While the sector remains significantly down compared to 2018/19, US holidays are leading the recovery with strong bookings from Irish travelers to destinations such as Florida, Las Vegas, New York and California.

Willie Walsh, former chief executive of airline group IAG and current head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the pressure on oil prices and the resulting impact on airline fuel charges would inevitably impact flight costs.

“Flights are getting more expensive because of the high oil price and it was clear to everyone that (this) will be reflected in higher ticket prices,” he said.

“Flying will undoubtedly become more expensive for consumers. Oil is the largest single element of an airline’s cost base. It is inevitable that higher oil prices will ultimately be passed on to consumers.”

As a result, holiday prices have risen in line with rising oil and input prices.

For example, a two week holiday for two adults and two teenage children in Benidorm in early July from Dublin now costs €2,618 on an accommodation only basis.

The same holiday in July 2019 would have cost almost 2,300 euros.

A two-week holiday in Lanzarote for two adults and two teenage children in early July now costs €3,378, also on an overnight basis from Dublin.

Four years ago, the same holiday would have cost around 2,800 euros.

Irish travel agents confirmed the rise in early bookings as holidaymakers desperate for bargains and value for money in their favorite destinations, with some travelers already booking for summer 2023 last September.

Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) President Paul Hackett said it was clear thousands of Irish holidaymakers wanted to book by the end of January to secure the best options and prices.

He said what is unique about the 2023 season is the number of travelers who have opted to pay for their holidays in increments rather than in individual lump sums.

He said Irish travelers were also returning to their favorite holiday trends, with bookings to Spain in particular proving strong.

Ireland’s most popular sun destinations are mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, the Algarve, France, Italy, Greece and Croatia.

The UK dwarfs other destinations in terms of total air travel by Irish citizens, albeit for shorter weekend breaks and family visits.

Data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows that six of the top ten destinations for Irish travelers are in the UK each year.

In terms of domestic holidays, Irish hotels are struggling hard to maintain their recovery, although the Irish Hotel Federation admitted it will likely take three years for business to return to 2019 levels.

A major concern has been the lingering fallout from Brexit, with the UK now suffering from the lowest growth rate of any of the world’s eight major economies, and the UK’s falling cost of living, which is hurting holiday spending.

Irish hoteliers have also been hit by increased operating costs due to rising electricity, oil and gas prices.

Ireland’s domestic holiday sector has been strategically dependent on the UK market for decades, with one in two Irish hoteliers now reporting lower advance bookings for summer 2023 compared to the UK market four years ago.

Room occupancy is now at 70%, almost 10% below the comparable figure four years ago. Bookings for summer sun holidays back to pre-pandemic levels despite rising prices

Fry Electronics Team

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