“This is truly unprecedented, for lack of a better word”: Sky-high demand for Europe has tour ops urging early bookings

Sky-high demand for Europe has tour ops urging early bookings

TORONTO — Unprecedented pent-up demand for travel in 2023 has created unprecedented pressure on travel inventory – so much so that for top destinations like Europe, the message shouldn’t just be ‘Book now’, but ‘Seriously, book NOW’.

Tour operators tell Travelweek that inquiries for Europe getaways this spring, summer and fall have soared as consumers rush to lock in their travel plans, amid this first full recovery year post-pandemic.

“The demand for Europe as a safe and interesting destination is huge from all over the world and space is definitely booking up much earlier than usual,” says Laurielle Penny, Managing Director, Worldwide Quest.

And “prices are definitely higher” than most people are expecting, as much as 20% higher than spring/summer 2022, she adds.

At Worldwide Quest, Penny says bookings are very strong for Sicily, Tuscany, Paris, Spain, Iceland, and Croatia. “As alternatives, we’re suggesting travellers look to Eastern Europe (Czechia) and also to Morocco – but book this early too!”

Penny is also encouraging clients to “be adventurous and consider options outside Europe. Southeast Asia and India offer tremendous value right now.”

For Air Canada Vacations, the big sellers so far are Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal. And ACV’s Flight & Hotel sales “have seen a big demand right across Europe,” says Managing Director, Nino Montagnese.

Asked about pricing, Montagnese says ACV managed to negotiate excellent rates, “however those are for early bookings. The demand is high and prices are rising.”

He adds: “Prices are only going to go up the closer we get to departure. If clients are holding out for better prices, they shouldn’t. Encourage Europe customers to book now.”

ACV released its ‘Travel Agent Toolkit for Europe’ last month, to help its travel agent partners make the most of the Europe travel boom. Montagnese recommends that agents use the Travel Agent Tool Kit to manoeuvre through ACV’s product and booking systems. The final word? “Air Canada Vacations has the best product we’ve ever had, book with confidence and do not wait for better prices, they will go up!” he says.

Another leader in Europe travel, Transat, is also reporting sky-high demand. “Over the past few months, we have seen a sustained appetite for travel and our bookings indicate that this will also be the case for this summer,” says spokesperson Bernard Côté.

More specifically, Côté says, Transat is seeing an overall increase in interest in the French provinces from Montreal, including Toulouse, Lyon and Marseille. “Our direct flight from Quebec City to Paris is also enjoying great velocity with travellers from the eastern part of the province.” Air Transat is the only carrier to serve eight French cities nonstop during the summer season.

Spain is strong too for Transat, and Amsterdam, and London. The coronation of King Charles III in early May could deter as many travellers as it attracts, but the spring timing of the big event leaves the summer months wide open for a very strong travel season.

Côté says that with Transat’s Hello Spring! Promotion, a good selection of low-cost roundtrip flights to Europe are currently available for departures in May/June.

Over at Gateways International, Talia May, Director, Marketing & Operations, says Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain are all selling well, with France and UK close behind. And while not a European destination, Morocco is as popular as ever.

We asked May how soaring demand is impacting availability. “All our programs are fully customized to the client’s specifications. We work hard with travel agents to put together just what the clients wants, but confirmations are very difficult to secure as requested. Many revisions are required due to lack of hotel space, guides and even drivers for transfers,” she says.

“After COVID restrictions began to relax last spring, we thought things were busy but this is truly unprecedented, for lack of a better word. Our local partners at destinations in Europe have literally advised us that they expect to be sold out by mid-spring for the remainder of 2023 — utterly shocking,” adds May.

To read the full article, check out the March 30 edition of Travelweek here.

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