In what has been an inevitably miserable start to the year for the embattled UK economy, which may or may not have fallen into recession, the overseas travel sector continues to provide some cheer.

Package holiday operators, airlines and travel agents have been indicating demand from customers in the UK remains strong, in spite of the enormous pressures on household finances arising from the protracted inflation crisis and surge in interest rates.

Unemployment has thankfully remained relatively low by historical standards so that will have provided some support to demand for holidays, even if there are quite rightly questions about the quality and security of many jobs in the UK.

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However, a key factor appears to be consumers continuing to prioritise overseas holidays over many other things. This should perhaps come as no great surprise in these dismal times, although it is probably quite remarkable nonetheless given just what grim shape the UK economy is in.

Budget airline Ryanair, which counts the UK among its key markets, declared on Monday that “travel demand remains high”.


It revealed that traffic grew 7% to 41.4 million passengers, comparing its third quarter to December 31 with the same three months of 2022, while average fares rose 13% to more than 42 euros, on the back of “a strong [October] mid-term and peak Christmas/New Year travel”.

The airline noted that “close-in loads and fares were softer than originally expected” but attributed this to “the sudden removal of Ryanair flights from many OTA (online travel agency)…websites” in early December.

Ryanair has been in dispute with some online travel agency sites for a long time - objecting to them selling its flights in the way they have been.

The effect on trading from the sudden removal of its flights from some online travel agency sites is clearly not demand-related. And this was underlined by Ryanair’s “travel demand remains high” statement.

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Airline easyJet was also upbeat when it provided an update last week on the quarter to December.

While noting the “onset of conflict” in the Middle East on October 7 had “short-term impacts from a pause in flights to Israel and Jordan, which currently remains in place, and a temporary slowdown in flight bookings for the wider industry”, easyJet said: “Demand and bookings have recovered strongly from late November.”

It noted its package holidays business had recorded “another strong quarter, with customer numbers increasing by 48% compared to the same period last year, and a profit of £30 million, a 131% increase year-on-year".

easyJet said: “Although still early, bookings for summer 2024 are building well, with the turn of the year bookings period showing an increase in both volume and pricing compared to the same period last year.”

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Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “We delivered an improved performance in the quarter which is testament to the strength of demand for our brand and network. The popularity of easyJet holidays also continues to grow, with 48% more customers in the period.

“We see positive booking momentum for summer 2024 with travel remaining a priority for consumers. Flight and holidays bookings took off strongly during the traditional busy turn of year sales period, as customers opted to secure their summer holidays to firm favourites like Spain and Portugal alongside destinations further afield like Greece and Turkey.”

Early this month, airline and package holiday operator Jet2 reported “record levels of demand for holidays, with more customers than ever looking to book their well-deserved holidays into the diary during the period known traditionally as…the peak holiday booking period”.

On January 5, Jet2 said of its trading: “In the period between Boxing Day and today, the UK’s largest tour operator has seen bookings increase by approximately 150% compared to pre-Christmas, with both summer 2024 and late bookings for this winter proving to be popular.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of and Jet2holidays, said: “This time of year has traditionally been the peak period for holiday bookings, and this is most definitely the case so far this year. We are seeing record levels of demand as customers jump at the chance to lock in their holidays.”

Glasgow-based Barrhead Travel revealed in late December it was set to close 2023 as its “best-ever” trading year “as demand continues to soar”.

The US-owned travel agency highlighted growth ambitions and plans to reveal new locations for stores in the first quarter of 2024.

It said it had celebrated 11 consecutive record-breaking months since January 2023. And it forecast December would also conclude with record sales.

Barrhead Travel declared in December that year-to-date bookings were up 26% on sales for 2019 - which it noted had been the company’s best trading year before 2023.

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, said last month: “Over the last year, we prioritised smart and sustainable growth, which has seen us deliver record-breaking results. This year, we will have recorded our highest-ever sales and we expect to continue that pace in 2024.

“Holidays remain a spending priority for consumers of all ages. The demand for a reputable travel agent is at an all-time high, which is why we believe that now is the time to move ahead with further expansion throughout the UK.”

Note the “priority” reference, the same word as that used by easyJet’s chief executive.

Barrhead Travel went on this month to report an early January “bookings boom”.

It noted that, for its customers, all-inclusive remained the most popular type of holiday for summer 2024, accounting for more than 35% of its bookings.

Barrhead Travel said that holidaymakers were seeking out longer breaks, with the average length of stay now at 10 days, up from nine in 2023. Holidaymakers were also choosing to upgrade both travel and hotels, it noted.

The travel agency flagged a surge in demand for touring and adventure holidays. It also highlighted a jump in solo travel and “multi-generational” holiday bookings.

Hays Travel has been another in the sector reporting buoyant trading.

Amid the broader economic gloom, the overseas travel sector, which was hit so hard by the pandemic, remains a much-needed bright spot.

From a Scottish perspective, it is to be hoped this buoyancy helps with the continued rebuilding of flight connectivity, which will be crucial not only to holidaymakers and others travelling for personal reasons but also to businesses and the broader economy.