How COVID-19 Has Influenced Where British People Are Flying

As lockdown measures start to ease, airlines across Europe are beginning to ramp up flying in an attempt to snag some last-minute summer holiday traffic. While we are well abreast of the number of flights operating, it will be some months before we discover whether anyone is actually on those flights. Are Brits ready to travel abroad? Simple Flying caught up with one of the UK’s biggest holiday deals sites to find out.

British Airways, Boeing 787-10, Delivery
UK airlines are taking off again, but is anyone actually onboard? Photo: British Airways

HolidayPirates is a deals recommendation site working across Europe. It finds the juiciest holiday offers and sends them out to its audience. However, alongside this facility, the company also has a white label holiday booking site where customers can search and book holidays directly.

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Digging into the trends on this booking site can give us a little insight into if and how people are looking to holiday this year. Simple Flying caught up with Nick Cooper, Head of Market for the UK at the HolidayPirates Group, to find out whether Brits are ready to go abroad yet.

Deals provider and booking agent HolidayPirates gave us some insight into the current trends. Photo: HolidayPirates

A quarantine-based shift

A significant factor influencing when and whether British residents would travel this year was the UK government’s quarantine restrictions. Implemented in early June, the rule meant anyone holidaying abroad would be forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon return to the UK. Understandably, many were probably discouraged from booking travel as a result.

However, in an abrupt U-turn, the UK government scrapped the requirement for many European countries, as well as some British overseas territories, from July 10th. The announcement regarding which countries would not require quarantine on return was made at the start of July. Nick said this has been a pivotal date that changed the way travel bookings are being made.

“There has been a definite shift from the last couple of weeks of June through to the first week of July,” he said.

How COVID-19 Has Influenced Where British People Are Flying

Nick evaluated booking behavior between the 16th to June 30th and compared this to the first week of July. The first and most obvious fluctuation is in the level of bookings themselves. In June, bookings were hovering at around 50% of what would typically have been expected at this time of year. By July, following the quarantine announcement, this had shot up to over 70% of regular levels.

Ready to travel now

As well as bookings steadily ticking up following the removal of quarantine restrictions, HolidayPirates noted a definite change in the times people wanted to travel.

During the last two weeks of June, there were barely any bookings for 2020 at all. The most popular month for bookings was May 2021. In fact, almost a third (32%) of bookings were for the second quarter of 2021.

However, once the announcement was made about the removal of quarantine rules, people began to book for this year once more. Perhaps given confidence that some of their favorite holiday destinations were now ‘safe,’ bookings for later this month jumped to 75% of the total. The most popular month for travel was December, followed by September. Bookings for the second quarter of 2021 had dropped to just 9%.

coronavirus, IATA, aviation impact
Removal of quarantine requirements encouraged more people to book sooner. Photo: Getty Images

Where do people want to travel?

The UK government scrapped quarantine for a total of 59 countries and territories. While some of these were far-flung destinations, including Taiwan, Mauritius, Seychelles and New Zealand, it seems Brits aren’t quite ready to adventure that far from home.

Nick told me that the vast majority of bookings were for close-to-home, familiar destinations. These included the ever-popular Spain, as well as Greece and Turkey. The biggest riser was Cyprus, perhaps reflecting the very low levels of COVID infections as well as the solid deals on offer there.

Beach in Cyprus
The beaches of Cyprus have seen a strong rise in bookings. Photo: dronepicr via Wikimedia 

Nick also noted a trend in more city breaks, with places like Rome, Budapest, Amsterdam and Prague proving popular with people willing to travel this year. The lack of long-haul bookings, however, was noticeable. Nick explained that it wasn’t for the lack of deals, though:

“There’s still a massive reluctance for people to book long-haul, from what we can see. There are some amazing deals out there for long haul … some of the cheapest we’ve ever seen if you’re willing to take a punt to go. But it doesn’t seem like many people are. “

Interestingly, the types of holidays being booked have changed significantly. Usually, sites like HolidayPirates sees a considerable proportion of bookings made for all-inclusive vacations. Nick estimates it’s around double that of those made for self-catering. However, this year that has flipped, with nearly double the number of bookings for bed and breakfast or self-catering that there have been for all-inclusive.

How COVID-19 Has Influenced Where British People Are Flying

This perhaps reflects the cautiousness of travelers concerning the measures hotels have put in place. Understandably, some may be wary of crowding around a self-serve buffet and would rather make their own choices about when and how to eat.

What does this mean for the recovery?

While the uptick in bookings is super news for both the aviation world and the travel industry in general, there is still a lack of willingness to travel soon, or to travel far away. I asked Nick how he saw recovery progressing. He told me,

“I think that recovery will be quite slow, quite tentative. I think it’s going to be adjusting to the new normal in many sectors – hospitality, travel – over the rest of this year and probably the entirety of next year.”

It’s not pleasant, but we’ll get used to it. Photo: Getty Images

The new normal has become the phrase of the year, or one of them at least. We now all know how to queue outside a supermarket, how to follow one-way systems up and down the aisles and expect our cashier to be behind a plastic screen. For the travel and tourism industry, their journey into the new normal has just begun. Nick believes it’s only a matter of time before the industry and its guests simply accept this as standard.

“I think the ‘new normal’, such as socially distancing, booking places in bars and restaurants in advance, using masks… that will just become second nature to us, and holiday resorts and travel will adapt to that.

“It means that travel will be at a lower capacity than it’s been at the last five or ten years.  People still want to travel, which is good, there’s still a massive demand for people to get away. But whether they will travel to a big long-haul destination … that’s quite unlikely at the moment. I think we’ll be talking a number of years – probably 2022 or 2023 – before anything recovers to anything like the industry that we had before.”

What do you think about the booking trends we’re seeing right now? Let us know in the comments.