Britons are waiting till the last minute to book holidays ‘a couple of months’ before they go, aiming to avoid Covid disruption and extra costs.
Bookings for the May half-term school holidays are down by 5 per cent compared to 2019, though the number is expected to pass pre-pandemic levels by mid-May.
Members of Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK’s biggest group of travel agents, said that 40 per cent of all holiday bookings were now for travel within the next 12 weeks.
Holidaymakers are also choosing to take one long break instead of multiple short trips, in an effort to avoid extra Covid disruption.
Beaches are set to be quieter this May half term as holidaymakers are holding off on booking their annual getaway (pictured) Poniente beach of Benidorm in summer seen from the heights of a skyscraper with the beach, the sea and other buildings of hotels and apartments
Brits are more hesitant to book travel ahead due to ever-changing Covid travel restrictions (pictured) Tapas Bar Tradicional in Seville, Andalusia, Spain
Many travel companies are doing all they can to offer more flexible booking policies, such as giving customers the option to postpone or amend their holiday and making it easier to claim a refund.
However, the International Air Transport Association predicts that airline passenger numbers will still not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Pre-pandemic, most Brits booked summer holidays during the January ‘peaks’ window at the start of the year.
But the Omicron variant closed borders that month, causing no post-Christmas surge in holiday bookings.
Kelly Cookes, Advantage’s leisure director, said the trend for last-minute bookings is expected to continue into the summer due to growing travel uncertainty.
‘It’s completely different from the pattern that we would have seen pre-pandemic,’ she told The Times.
‘At the moment it is absolutely the case people book and depart quickly because they then feel like there’s less chance of things changing and then not being able to travel as planned.’
Kelly predicts the last-minute nature of bookings will be a ‘short-term trend’ with normality returning in 2024 as consumers’ habits revert to pre-pandemic norms.
She said: ‘We need this period of stability where we continue to see restrictions being scrapped.
What are the rules for your holiday destination?
Adults Must be fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past six months to enter.
Latest jab must have been given within 270 days of travel. No tests or forms required.
Children No rules for under-12s.
Unvaccinated children aged 12 to 17 can take PCR test within three days of travel. Masks for public transport only.
Adults No tests or forms for the fully vaccinated but anyone aged 12 and over who is not must take a PCR test within three days of travel or a lateral flow test within two days.
Children No rules for under-12s. Masks for public transport only.
Adults No tests or forms for the fully vaccinated or for those who have recovered from Covid in the past six months.
Latest jab must have been given within 270 days of travel.
Unvaccinated travellers aged six and over must take a PCR test within three days of travel or a lateral flow test within two days.
Children No rules for those under six.
Masks For public transport, cinemas, theatres and indoor events.
No travel rules in place for holidaymakers, regardless of vaccination status. Masks for all indoor public spaces.
Adults No tests for the vaccinated or those who have recovered from Covid in the past 180 days. Latest jab must have been given within 270 days of travel. Unvaccinated travellers aged 12 and over must take either a PCR within three days of travel or a lateral flow test within one day.
Children No rules for under-12s. Masks For public transport only.
‘We still have quite a few of our key destinations where you do have regulations, such as testing, which is always going to be a deterrent for customers. We need to see more destinations scrapping [all rules] to help build confidence.’
ONS data showed that Britons made 6.1 million visits abroad by air in the summer of 2021, which was a decrease of 76% compared with the summer of 2019.
UK residents spent £4.9 billion on visits abroad in July to September of 2021, this was a decrease of 78% compared with July to September 2019.
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said airlines are being forced to ‘plan summer blind’ due to ever-changing border restrictions.
Speaking in Madeira, he said: ‘We are incredibly relieved where we are now.’
Travel has been rapidly decreasing as Brits worry about sudden changes in travel rules meaning they are holding off booking trips (Pictured) A young woman drinking an alcoholic cocktail in a rooftop restaurant with view to the Eiffel tower in Paris, France
‘We all want to put Covid behind us now although there are still a number of challenges, not least sustainability but also getting through the summer with labour shortages,’ after mass lay-offs.
John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, has suggested the surge in bookings was a ‘bubble’ that would burst and that Americans think ‘London is under attack’ because of the war in Europe.
Critics say the airport is tactically making an effort to boost its chances as the Civil Aviation Authority is allowing it to increase passengers fees. An announcement on the five-year deal is expected this summer.
‘It’s all just so cynical,’ an anonymous aviation industry source said.
‘A man stranded on the moon could see what they’re trying to do. Nobody else in UK aviation is talking down their own sector like this — literally nobody. It’s hugely disappointing when we’ve spent two years in the trenches together battling Covid and now they do this.’