Ulster people are refusing to give up their summer holidays abroad despite the credit crunch, according to a leading Northern Ireland travel agent.
Doreen McKenzie, managing director of Knock Travel and local spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said while conditions are tougher for the travel sector the poor summer last year and cold winter have encouraged people to still book holidays.
“Towards the end of last year all the predictions were doom and gloom and certainly November and December were quiet. But against all the odds we’ve come back from Christmas and things have been busy,” she said.
“People are now treating a holiday as a necessity and not as a luxury and a lot of that is to do with the weather. It gives people something to think about through the winter.”
Mrs McKenzie was speaking ahead of this year’s Holiday World show at the King’s Hall in Belfast on January 16-18, which is sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph.
She acknowleged that holidaymaker numbers from Northern Ireland will be down in 2009, partly because tour operators have reduced the number of holidays on sale by about 20% in preparation for the recession.
Summer travel to Europe’s sunshine destinations was also expected to be curtailed by the slumping value of the pound against the euro and the uncertainty surrounding jobs in many sectors of the local economy.
But Mrs McKenzie believes the downturn and unfavourable exchange rate will only change how people approach holidays, not prompt them to cancel them.
“Families are looking for all inclusive (deals) or apartments rather than hotels and maybe going for 10 days rather than two weeks. They are taking out the hidden costs,” she said.
“With a number of airlines in bankruptcy and tour operator XL going under people are much more aware of financial security so they have to know that their money is protected,” she added.
Though Spain will still be the leading package holiday destination, Mrs McKenzie said she is receiving more enquiries about destinations outside the eurozone such as Croatia and Tunisia. Some who can afford it are looking even further afield to South Africa and South America.
Many of these destinations will be showcased at the Holiday World show. Mrs McKenzie says the show is less about getting business than ideas, information on destinations, and raising the company profile.
This will help Northern Ireland travel agents as they have to be more creative to encourage residents to make the investment in an overseas holidays. Mrs McKenzie says her staff are being given extra training to broaden their knowledge of destinations and accommodation and the company has held a series of themed ‘destination days’ to highlight places the public might not otherwise consider.
Ultimately, she believes that while the market has changed people keen to have a holiday can still find a good deal.
“The world’s a small place and there are so many choices. If you have a budget let us know and we’ll give you some options. It’s just not the case that you can’t go.”