On The Beach boss Simon Cooper says predicting the future for the travel sector is a “mug’s game” and firms should focus on being prepared for anything.
Speaking as the OTA released full year trading results, Cooper said firms confidently predicting a strong 2022 is “blind optimism”.
“What do they know that the rest of us don’t?” he said. “If the last two years have taught us anything it’s predicting the shape of the future is perilous and the best thing you can do make sure you’re fit for anything.”
Cooper said the omicron COVID-19 variant and the latest reintroduction of restrictions are bound to have an impact on people’s willingness to book holidays in the upcoming new year peaks.
“It’s a very, very dangerous to be saying Jan 22 is going to be bumper. All you’re doing is expressing what you’d like to see, not necessarily what looks realistic at this point in time.
“We’re ready for any shape [the market takes]. We’re hugely fortunate that we manage a different looking business to many others in travel and as such we are highly liquid, we have access to credit facilities we don’t even draw and we ringfence customer money.
“None of the fundamentals that made us strong to cope with such an environment have changed. To me it’s a mug’s game trying to predict what the shape of 2022 looks like, so just make sure you’re prepared for any outcome.”
On The Beach says despite suppressed booking levels the brand has emerged from the COVID crisis with awareness as an all-time high.
It’s decision to take holidays off sale this summer, a free COVID test offer, a New Normal Booking Pledge and ongoing high-profile TV brand advertising were credited with this result.
Cooper said On The Beach is planning for a number of scenarios for a new 2022 campaign and that the brand will be “highly active” and fighting for market share whatever happens.
“We’re in a fortunate position in that we have a level of flexibility I terms of how hard to spend and exactly what message will be that goes into market.
“But a lot of planning has gone into that and it’s probably fair to say that no matter what the shape of the market is, unless it’s a return to 2021, we will be highly active and fighting to take more than our fair share of whatever volumes of bookings exist.
“And it’s also a case of no matter what the shape of 2022 looks like you need to build for the future. At this point in time I can tell you what the message will be because it will depend on what the environment looks like.”
Cooper said there has been a polarisation of booking windows with some people booking very early but many waiting a booking late.
“That’s a lot more difficult to manage where you’re managing fixed commitments and assets etc, it’s not a great place to be. Also, of course, if you are trading reliant on customer cash, that’s not a great place to be.”
Cooper revealed that On The Beach had already brought back a work from home mandate prior to the latest re-impositions of restrictions this week amid concerns about the omicron COVID variant.
“As of two weeks ago when omicron hit, listen we had a couple of teams that needed to be in the office for some of the work they were doing and the finance team was overseeing with year end audit but outside of that if you don’t need to be in the office don’t go.”
Cooper said firms should try to anticipate what is likely to happen and not just stick their heads in the sand and wait for the latest announcements from government.
“That’s not easy against shifting sands but there is an element of déjà vu every single time one of these things happen and when you look backwards you think all of that could have been predicted. Right now we don’t know which way omicron turns based on the data.”