Indian Ocean – operators report a March-April ‘breakthrough’

CHARTER flights, good sales and special features for families have hugely boosted packaged Indian Ocean holidays booked for travel over March and April.

Beachcomber Tours said it had achieved a staggering 60% increase on 2019 bookings for travel to Mauritius in March and April. This is despite fewer direct flights (there are still only direct flights ex-JNB) and also in spite of the COVID-19 side effects (such as PCR tests for returning to South Africa, which was in force until last week); the still persistent last-minute booking trends; and a lot of deferred bookings still being fulfilled.

Beachcomber Sales & Marketing Director, Joanne Visagie, said demand had surged since bookings reopened on January 7, even with the absence of direct Cape Town and Durban flights, and with a maximum of 14 flights a week ex-JNB over peak dates. “Taking this into account, our increase is huge,” she said.

Fewer restrictions had also helped to make life easier for travellers and for travel agents, she said, confident that the lifting of PCR tests in Mauritius and South Africa would lead to more business. “The number of seats on the route (JNB-MRU) is still much lower than pre-COVID, so this is challenging.

“Business is pumping and everyone is busy and working hard. June and July, with the added mid-year savings and value-adds, and pre-purchased seats, is going to be great for us. We’re expecting a record year.”

High-end resort brand LUX* also confirmed good bookings for its resorts in Mauritius, Réunion and Maldives. Head of Sales & Marketing, South Africa & Africa, Alexis Bekker, said there had been more forward bookings for travel over Easter, whereas, a few months ago, the trend had been for last-minute travel.

Bekker agreed that there was a sense of new confidence as the rules were relaxed and became easier to follow.

“While I am not sure we are back at pre-COVID levels, there certainly is a good indication that the market is gaining confidence again. As those itchy feet catch hold, clients are searching for brand security where they know their money is safe and, of course, where they know the quality of the holiday experience has been maintained, if not improved. LUX did a whole-resort refurbishment of LUX* Le Morne and also opened a brand-new, five-star deluxe-plus resort, LUX* Grand Baie, which opened in December 2021. We anticipate that we will see record sales for this year, and we are tracking well for this.”

It was not only about families travelling from South Africa either, Bekker said. “There is an extremely positive increase in demand for our MICE business.

“We believe that if we see a good six months’ worth of uninterrupted travel, travellers will have regained their confidence. Islands – particularly Mauritius – have always been a favourite with holidaymakers, and this can be seen with the strong return of business. It is our expectation that the travel bug will bite and won’t be letting go any time soon – viva Mauritius!”

AfricaStay also experienced positive growth in Q1. Product Manager Jacqui Carr, said results across Indian Ocean destinations were better than before COVID, an improvement she attributed to charter flights and “mega sales”.

She reported an increase in Mauritius bookings, although airlift for March and April was a challenge. “We are seeing a substantial spike in demand for months thereafter. The easing of PCR requirements has definitely helped.

“Deals for Zanzibar are flying off the shelves,” Carr said, confirming that the company’s charter flight, currently the only direct air service from South Africa, was in place until January 2023.

“AfricaStay spent the COVID months improving technology. We are now rolling out our new website, which allows our trade partners to build their choice of packages in less than two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This covers both core island destinations as well as access to over a million hotels worldwide and over 300 000 activities and attraction tickets globally.”

 Thompsons Holidays CEO, Joanne Adolphe, said pre-COVID levels for destinations like Mauritius would be hard to beat without more flights being laid on. She said limited air access was holding things back. And clients are cautious.

“Everybody is up with re-bookings and, yes, there has been new revenue.” Bookings to other destinations outside the Indian Ocean had also hugely increased, she said.

“We are also getting uptake for June, July and September and October. But customers are not paying in full. They’re waiting,” she said.

In the Indian Ocean, Thompsons reported lots of enquiries for Mauritius, Maldives, Mombasa (unspoiled and easy to reach) and Mozambique. But Adolphe said there was also a great deal of interest for Victoria Falls, Dubai and Thailand. “Thailand has bounced back! There is a lot of interest in Thailand now that they’ve relaxed COVID regulations. We’ve also seen huge interest in Dubai as a leisure destination and for family travel. Family travel is the trend at the moment.”

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