UK travel industry forecasts summer boom amid surge in holiday bookings

EasyJet sees strong summer ahead as consumer confidence rebounds and travel restrictions are lifted

Travel companies are reporting a bounce-back in bookings, with easyJet and Saga predicting a summer surge as the impact of Omicron on consumer confidence wanes, and the government’s move to lift testing and travel restrictions pushes capacity back to near pre-pandemic levels.

Beach bookings are in high demand, according to easyJet, the UK’s biggest airline, which said it would have almost a third more capacity heading to seaside destinations this summer than it did in 2019, a rise led by Greece and Turkey.

Overall, flight capacity would be near pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter, Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, said.

“We see a strong summer ahead, with pent-up demand that will see easyJet returning to near 2019 levels of capacity, with UK beach and leisure routes performing particularly well,” said Lundgren.

He said that booking volumes had leapt since the government reduced travel restrictions. “The UK is leading in bookings versus the rest of Europe for the first time since 2020.”

Pointing to an EU recommendation that member states should lift restrictions, Lundgren said business should receive a further boost: “We believe testing for travel across our network should soon become a thing of the past.”

EasyJet said that while the final three months of last year showed a dramatic improvement on 2020 – easyJet operated 85.6m flights compared with 23.4m – the company missed its load factor forecast as Christmas travel plans were once again disrupted due to the impact of Omicron.

Easyjet said it expected the Covid variant to continue to have an impact over its short-term performance in the second quarter, the three months to the end of March.

However, the airline said that customers looked to rebook, rather than cancel, which will help boost its performance this year. In addition, the company said it had seen a “sustained step-change” in bookings after the government’s announcement earlier this month to remove pre-departure testing, and a further boost following the news that restriction-free travel will commence from 11 February.

Saga, the travel and insurance group specialising in products and holidays for over-50s, said it had seen strong bookings for its cruises in the period from 1 August to 26 January.

The company said that for this 2022-2023 financial year, which runs from 27 January, cruises have a booking load factor of 86% in its first half and 73% for the full year.

“While Omicron has impacted travel bookings through December and January, our outlook for cruises in 2022/2023 and beyond is positive,” said Euan Sutherland, chief executive of Saga.

The company said that the cruises operation produced profits on an adjusted basis in the period to 26 January, but a pre-tax loss of £45m to £50m.

EasyJet said that the loss in the first quarter of its financial year almost halved to £213m, compared with £423m in the same quarter in 2020. Group revenues were £805m, compared with £165m the previous year.

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Overall, easyJet flew at 64% of pre-pandemic capacity in the final three months of last year, broadly in line with guidance, and a significant increase on the 18% capacity level in the same period in 2020.

Passenger numbers were 11.89 million in the final three months of 2021, up from just 2.8 million in 2020.

“We remain confident that easyJet will continue to win customers and are excited about our plans for the summer as we identify further opportunities at our key bases which will deliver strong, sustainable shareholder returns,” said Lundgren.


Mark Sweney and Gwyn Topham

The GuardianTramp

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