By Humphrey Carter
PALMA

THE FITUR tourism fair draws to a close in Madrid this weekend and the host nation has enjoyed a very positive few days with the country's key markets, in particular the United Kingdom, reporting a significant surge in interest and bookings of holidays to Spain, especially the Canaries and the Balearics this year.

All of the UK's main tour operators have reported year-on-year increases in the sale of holidays to Spain ranging from 10 to over 20 percent and further growth is expected with the market appearing having swung back in Spain's favour for various reasons.

And, according to Hugh Morgan, the Managing Director of Tour Operations for the Monarch Group, it was not just the British reporting a sharp rise in demand for Spanish holidays it was the Russians, the Belgians, the French, the Italians and the Germans too. “Obviously, we, as an industry and Spain as a destination, have to be prudent, we don't want to gloat but the vibes and talk at FITUR was very positive and encouraging indeed. “Spain as a whole is already doing 15 percent better than this time last year and, there was an early post-Christmas rush for summer holidays with Spain and the Balearics matching Turkey all the way. “We at Monarch are doing phenomenally well, across the board trading is much better than last year. “In fact, Spain is outstripping Turkey now and with the troubles in Tunisia, North Africa is going to be off the radar for many people this year. Jet2 has actually cancelled its summer flight programme to Tunisia and redirected all their planes into Spain and we are also increasing capacity, everybody is to meet the demand. “So, for the moment, things are looking very good for Spain and the islands,” Morgan said after returning from the fair. “The Balearic delegation certainly seemed up beat but, while on the one hand the outlook is good, there can't be any room for complacency and hotels must not start putting their prices up. “As I always say, price is king and it will be again this year and the Balearics needs to realise that. The local industry must make the most of the fact that the Pound is gaining against the Euro, Turkey and Egypt appear to have lost their shine and Turkey has put its prices up by around 25 percent and the troubles in North Africa are making people opt for a destination they know, feel safe in, know there's good infrastructure and hotels if anything goes wrong and, should be getting value for money.

ENTHUSIASM

“The hoteliers have been clever in freezing or even dropping their prices - it's worked - so they must not spoil it,” he warned. “We at Monarch have made a big effort to operate six flights per week between Gatwick and Manchester all this winter to try and give the winter season a lift and the response from the travelling pubic has been good and we're increasing our flight capacity to the Balearics this summer,” Morgan added. “The next test is going to be at the ITB fair in Berlin, as we saw last year, external factors can have disastrous affects on the travel industry, but fingers crossed, this year will run smoothly and Spain should be the winner. “With Easter coming late, and we're already seeing big demand for Easter, the hotels will be opening for Easter and then staying open for the Summer so that's another plus,” Morgan added.

And there was further evidence that the holiday market is moving fast in the UK on Friday when , the Independent travel retailers reported that they have seen a strong start to the year, with a survey of Aito Specialist Travel Agents revealing bullish confidence for the year ahead.

The Aito survey found 62% of agency respondents “extremely” confident about sales for 2011 and almost half (46%) reporting a “good” or “extremely good” start to January.

The strong beginning to the year followed “an encouraging rise in bookings in 2010”, according to Aito Specialist Travel Agents chairman Oliver Broad.
The same survey found 89% believe their business is increasing as consumers return to agents due to fears of being stranded in the event of any problem. The results led the Aito Specialist Travel Agents, who are allied to the Association of Independent Tour Operators, to declare the theme of their Agents' Conference in Warwickshire at the weekend as “Back to the travel agent”.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed reported seeing an increase in inquiries year-on-year, while 57% said bookings were up.
Aito chairman Derek Moore acknowledged a comparison with January 2010 meant little given the appalling start to sales a year ago. However, he said: “The omens are good. The level of sales is better than in 2007 and that is heartening. Two years ago, it was all gloom.” Robert Broad Travel reported “a fantastic last week”, with director Nathan Collins telling Travel Weekly: “It was one of our busiest weeks ever.” Morgan added that the double Bank Holiday for the Royal wedding is also proving popular with Britons making the most to escape the awful winter weather to the sun as quickly as possible. “Let's just hope the enthusiasm lasts and the Balearics responds responsibly,” he said.

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