Analysis: GfK holiday sales data reveals strong start to 2010

The latest available figures from official travel industry market intelligence firm GfK Ascent MI support early claims that 2010 has started positively, especially for high-street travel agents.

While it is still too early to properly assess the impact the recent heavy snowfall has had on high-street holiday sales in the run up to and post Christmas, trends as 2009 ended were encouraging.

Cumulatively, 2010 summer bookings remained down year-on-year although more so in terms of passenger numbers (-7%) than revenue (-1%).

But with the summer 2009 market ending around 10% down compared to the previous year, the holiday market is, like the UK economy overall, at least declining less sharply.

Many of the trends seen last year have continued, with high-street agents remaining the value channel, having actually grown the value of sales by 3% despite a 5% fall in volumes.

This contrasted sharply with what GfK Ascent refers to as direct, or call centre/online sales, which saw a 12% decline in passenger numbers and 9% decline in values for summer 2010 bookings.

Monthly comparisons for the tail end of last year should be viewed with a degree of caution because they were set against the worst performing period of 2008.

October was flat and November saw a 7% rise in passenger numbers, while December was flat year-on-year, on the back of a 15% fall in December 2008.

However, again, the yearly comparisons show just how the industry was driving up the value of sales, with November seeing a 21% increase in revenue.

Unlike with passenger numbers, the monthly revenue comparison is noteworthy because, despite the economic crisis in November 2008, average prices held up and were £10 higher than in 2007.

This revenue growth was particularly marked in the direct channels (28%), but the high street did see an 18% increase.

Capacity cuts have, to date, seen £180,000 worth of holidays priced £599 or less taken out of the summer 2010 market, while price bands over £800 have seen growth.

Performance on the high street has been at least matched by some homeworking agents, according to the latest figures from Travel Counsellors.

Since November in the UK the firm saw a 26% increase in sales on 2008, 6.3% when compared to the same period pre-recession in 2007/08.

Managing director Steve Byrne said this was driven by an increase in average selling prices of 7% on 2007/08 and 9% on last year.

More recent post-new year sales were even more encouraging with average prices up 12% and overall UK sales up 28%.

Byrne said this may have been partly down to the freezing UK weather.

He added: “It can’t have helped that high-street shops have been closed. Feedback from our counsellors suggests they have benefited for two reasons; they have been available for customers, and customers have not been at work so have been easier to get hold of.”

The GFK Ascent figures also broke down bookings by duration, holiday type and board basis revealing some now familiar trends.

All-inclusive continued to increase (13% up), although predictions of a topping out of this market appeared to be being borne out with average selling prices up just £4, compared to £51 for the market overall.

The big impact of the downturn appeared to be in the family market, which continued to struggle and was down 13%, 10 percentage points more than for adult passengers.

This was reflected in durations, with the traditional 14-night family holiday in greater decline than all other durations (-20%) as volumes of shorter eight to 13-night breaks increased, 10 nights proving the most popular duration.

Mid-haul was the star performer driven by travel agents, who saw passenger numbers increase 3% and revenues by 13%.

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