The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is urging UK holidaymakers to book early for European sunshine destinations, including Cyprus for which there is already a 14 per cent increase over last year, it said.
“New figures show a 6% year on year increase in bookings for overseas summer holidays with substantial increases for Spain (27%) and Portugal (32%), with Cyprus (14%) and Malta (15%) also selling well, ABTA said in an announcement. Bookings to Greece were at similar levels to 2015 as were those to the US, it added.
Similar booking patterns were being reported by travel trade associations in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, which will result in increased demand and competition for accommodation, “emphasising just how important it is to book early this year”.
“The growth in popularity of the Western Mediterranean is being driven partly by a drop in business to traditionally popular destinations like Tunisia and Egypt, following terrorist incidents and changes to Foreign Office travel advice,” ABTA said.
It said more customers also appeared to be looking for the wider choice and good value on offer to early bookers. Mediterranean eurozone countries had responded to local economic problems by lowering prices in bars and restaurants, and the British pound was still at a relatively high level, “meaning that these destinations offer extremely good value for money”.
Another factor behind the growth was the continuing readjustment in the overseas holiday market following the significant falls seen in 2008 and 2009 after the financial crisis and credit crunch, when overall UK passenger numbers fell by 15%. In 2015, UK airlines reported that passenger numbers had returned to pre- credit crunch levels, ABTA said.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive said: “The significant increase in summer holiday bookings to Western Mediterranean destinations is also being mirrored in other northern European markets so it makes it more important than ever that customers book early to obtain the best value and ensure they get the holiday of their choice.”
Last year, the total number of British tourists in Cyprus exceeded the one-million mark for the first time since 2011 and rose to 1,041,208, which was almost 20 per cent above the respective 2014 figure but still far from its 2001 peak of 1.5 million in 2001.
During the week, Uli Sperl, the group commercial director of Thomas Cook, told Cypriot hoteliers that Brits were flocking more to Spain and Portugal this year as the fallout from the spate of terrorist attacks in the eastern Mediterranean in the latter part of 2015 continued to hang over the region.
“Cyprus is doing well but not as well as you would expect. We are seeing an interest but it’s slowing down,” Sperl said, stressing that tour operators selling Cyprus did not themselves have any concerns. “There is still a proximity issue as Cyprus is close to Turkey,” he said. “Spain and Portugal are considered to be safe havens.”