New research from ForwardKeys, based on airline ticketing data, finds flight bookings to and from the UK soared following the government’s announcement that Covid-19 testing would no longer be required for fully vaccinated travelers entering the UK.
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The day after UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on January 24, combined inbound and outbound flight bookings jumped to 84% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels, outbound to 106 % and incoming at 47%.
The news follows a series of rule relaxations affecting UK travel, each triggering spikes in bookings.
On January 5, the UK said that from Sunday January 9, fully vaccinated travelers could take a lateral flow instead of a PCR test no later than the second day of their arrival in England. Ten days later, the Times newspaper published a report (which has not been denied) that travelers could go on a mid-term holiday without taking Covid-19 tests on their return.
Outbound tourism in the UK
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the five destinations for which bookings rebounded the most strongly in January were: Mexico, up 72% compared to 2019; The Maldives, up 54%; Greece, +22%; Cyprus, up 20%; Barbados, up 16%.
Typical seasonality patterns have returned and are evident in the recent recovery, with peaks for the upcoming midterm break in February and the Easter holiday period, when looking at confirmed airfares in January.
In relative terms, outbound travel demand over the extended holiday weekend to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in early June is already up 13% from 2019.
The destinations that are doing the best for the upcoming truce are now all ahead of what they were at the end of January 2019.
In the lead is Mexico, with a 68% lead. Mexico is followed by Pakistan, with a 60% lead; The Maldives, 55% ahead; Barbados, 32% ahead; Qatar, 28% ahead; Bangladesh, 16% ahead; the UAE, 8% ahead and Portugal, 2% ahead.
The list is dominated by long-haul destinations, which offer beach vacations or have a relatively strong market for visits of friends and relatives (VFR), such as Pakistan.
Bookings for the Easter and summer holidays are relatively stronger than they are for the upcoming midterm break.
Compared to the end of January 2019, mid-term bookings are 33% behind, while Easter bookings are 29% behind and summer bookings are 16% behind.
Compared to this time last year, when the UK was in a limited state of lockdown, bookings are unsurprisingly much healthier, 59% ahead for Easter and 82% ahead for summer.
Currently, the top Easter destinations are led by Cyprus, where bookings are 68% above 2019 levels. It is followed by Nigeria, 35% ahead, Mexico, 28% ahead, Greece, 26% ahead. and Spain 5% ahead.
UK inbound tourism
The recent surge in outbound bookings was closely followed by a modest recovery in inbound demand.
As of January 31, the strongest source markets (measured by air tickets issued) were dominated by Nigeria at 73% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels. Nigeria was followed by Ireland at 47%; the United States, 47%; Brazil, 47%; Saudi Arabia, 45%; the United Arab Emirates, 44%; South Africa, 40%; Spain, 40%; Kuwait, 37% and Sweden, 36%.
“Cocks away!”, a term used by WWII pilots to remove the blocks in front of their landing gear so they could take off, is the perfect metaphor to describe what’s happening in the travel market right now. to and from the UK. By removing the hurdle of testing and the risk of quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers, flight bookings are skyrocketing.
What I find particularly interesting is the continued predominance of classic sea and sun destinations. A clear sign that the pandemic is still very present is the absence of a revival of urban tourism or travel to airports strongly associated with skiing. However, if we see mainland European countries easing their travel restrictions like the UK has just done, I expect to see a flood of holiday bookings that could exceed pre-pandemic levels, thanks to a release of huge pent-up demand.