With foreign summer holiday plans in disarray following weeks of uncertainty over popular European destinations, more tourists are scrapping plans for this year – and saving up for a bigger trip in 2022.
“We have seen a surge in bookings for safaris to Kenya and Tanzania in 2022,” says Liddy Pleasants from adventure travel agency Stubborn Mule. “Not only that but real bonanza-style North America road trips lasting two or three weeks. People have saved their holiday money for two years and they are determined to do something memorable.”
Pleasants has noticed that part of the trend is to go for unforgettable experiences in far-flung locations. “People are booking for remote bear-watching lodges, places like Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in British Columbia, or they want safari camps that are harder to get to, but where you get a real African bush experience – locations like Kenya’s Laikipia Wilderness Camp.”
The trend has also been noticed by the Latin America Travel Association, a group of more than 360 companies. One member, Thomas Power of Pura Aventura says: “People are planning for longer trips. We’ve seen the average booking go from 15-day trips to 23.” That might be a three-week drive down Argentina’s Ruta 40 to see the Fitz Roy range, or a 44-day extravaganza through 17 national parks in South America. Cox & Kings has had to launch its 2023 brochure early to cope with demand.
All this may suit those firms that offer such once-in-a-lifetime packages, but many other companies that sell the less ambitious Mediterranean beach holiday are angry about government policy. “Confusing and disruptive flip-flopping,” says Stephen Ellison, head of marketing at Vintage Travel, which specialises in Mediterranean villa rentals.
Noel Josephides, chairman of Sunvil, which focuses largely on the Mediterranean, has a similar attitude: “If we lose the peak season we will be in real trouble, as will all European tour operators.”
In an industry that is used to handling people, there is a growing sense of exasperation with the UK government. Pleasants is scathing about the traffic-light system and, after the Portugal debacle, wrote an open letter to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary: “Lesson from Life. Having dangled a carrot in front of someone’s face, don’t whip it away shortly after, instead aggressively wielding a stick.”
Not all customers are ready to give up on 2021. At Thomas Cook, about two-thirds of clients are postponing to later this year, rather than cancelling. That will give hope to João Fernandes, president of Algarve Tourism. Only a fortnight ago, he stood at the gates of Faro airport with a big smile on his face, handing out face masks and sprigs of lavender to British arrivals. “We hope people will postpone, rather than cancel,” he says.
For some companies there has been consolation in the fact that they have spent the past year developing British-based packages. Alison Hall of walking and cycling specialist Inntravel has welcomed the chance to expand the company’s UK programme. “We always wanted to devote time to it,” she says. “Now we have new holidays in the Lake District, Brecon Beacons and Jersey.”
At Dorset Coastal Cottages, staff have had some fun matching British and overseas destinations by their sunshine hours, rainfall and average temperature. The results were somewhat surprising. “The Isle of Mull comes out as the nearest match to Madeira,” says Shannon Keary, digital PR manager. “And Dorset is similar to Tenerife. With all the difficulties of overseas travel, it’s certainly looking like a less stressful destination.”