Tour operators still optimistic that summer can be saved

Riu Bravo Mallorca TUI Group

Tour operators across Europe remain optimistic that this upcoming summer tourism season won’t be a total washout despite rising case numbers and a limited vaccine roll out.

At the moment Covid-19 restrictions across the continent remain mixed. In the United Kingdom, for example, holidays are effectively banned and will remain so for another few months, however in Germany, people are free to travel and 40,000 tourists are reportedly heading for Mallorca this Easter.

All this uncertainty means that tour operators are having to be flexible with success coming in unlikely areas.

UK-based tour operator Jet2holidays, which flies across Europe with sister airline, said it had seen “strong demand” for its villas product with searches and bookings up for this year and next.

In response to this demand it has added hundreds of new villas across destinations in Greece, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands in particular. This expansion takes the total number of villas on sale to over 2,200 across 42 destinations.

UK-based luxury tour operator Simpson Travel said it was also seeing increased interest in this accommodation area.

“We have seen strong interest in our villa holidays for 2021 as they offer the chance for a real away-from-it-all holiday experience, which has a lot of appeal given the current situation.  We saw a surge in booking immediately post the February announcement giving the ‘opening up’ timelines,” a spokesperson said. 

“We are still seeing a steady number of enquiries, but expect there to be a second surge when the next announcement is made for international travel, as there is obviously strong demand for villa holidays, with all the privacy they offer.”

Elsewhere in Europe, others are trying a different approach. FTI Group, the third largest tour operator in Europe, is trying to extend the length of holidays by offering guests three weeks for the price of two at select properties during certain periods this year, at its Labranda and Kairaba hotel and resort properties.

For Europe’s biggest tour operator TUI Group, reassurance is the priority. In a statement last week at its 2021 AGM the company said it was making intensive preparation for “safe and responsible travel along the entire travel chain”.

Group-wide bookings for summer 2021, including rebookings and voucher redemptions, total 2.8 million guests, which is around 60 per cent below the comparable level for the 2019 season.

Overall capacity for the peak summer travel months from July 2021 has been adjusted to 75 per cent down from 80% compared to 2019.

“All current holiday offers are geared towards relaxation, beach walks and the conscious experience of nature. TUI's safety and hygiene programmes at the holiday destination are of the same high standard as the measures taken by governments in the European source markets,” the company said.

While a diversified product offerings can help boost a chance of success, tour operators and others in the travel and leisure sector remain at the mercy of the Covid-19.

Countries like the UK and Israel have been among the quickest in terms of vaccinations but outbound travel also depends on the conditions at the destination. European Union member states in particular haven’t been as quick, although this does look set to change and the proposed Digital Green Certificate could also improve the situation.

Insight Comment
The optimism around summer 2021 has ebbed and flowed since the start of the year with some countries such as the UK playing it much stricter in terms of overseas travel. TUI Group is one of the last remaining vertically integrated travel companies meaning it controls the travel journey from purchase to the actual stay, operating travel agencies, airlines and hotels. Others have a more flexible model. TUI takes on a much greater risk and is on the hook when things go wrong but it does give it greater control of the overall product offering – something that might work to its advantage with travellers this summer.