Trade says US testing decision is unlocking demand

The trade has welcomed the lifting of US pre-departure tests for vaccinated holidaymakers as a “huge boost” that will release pent-up demand for travel to the destination.

US specialists immediately saw sales jump over the weekend, particularly for New York, Las Vegas and Orlando, while agents said the move has reduced their workload and represented a saving for clients of more than £100 for a family of four.

The US is the last mainstream destination to relax its Covid rules. It dropped the need for a negative pre-departure test from June 12 after domestic lobbying. Unvaccinated travellers still cannot enter.

Gold Medal reported “double-digit growth” in call volumes following Friday’s announcement. Trading director Tricia Birmingham said holidaymakers were “seizing the opportunity” to book but added: “Despite a surge in last-minute departures, the largest share of departures is going into the third quarter of 2022.”

USAirtours chief executive Guy Novik reported a 20% hike in sales over the weekend. He said: “It’s a removal of the hassle, which has been a major factor. Agents have come back to us to see if quotes they have already given clients are still available at the same price.” He added bookings were likely to be for further out.

Premier Holidays sales and marketing director Debbie Goffin said US demand was up 75% on the previous week but added: “We anticipate it’ll be next weekend before we see the corresponding rise in conversion rates.”

Ocean Holidays reported a 25% rise in US bookings compared with the previous weekend, with enquiries up 105% on the same weekend in 2019. Chief executive Harry Hastings called the move a “huge boost”.

Agents were optimistic despite not yet witnessing a big rise in sales.

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said: “It’s too early to see a bookings spike but customers are high-fiving. The tests required a lot of agent intervention, so this makes life easier at the sharp end.”

Gary Gillespie, managing director of Independent Travel Experts, agreed the change would “make the US easier to sell” but said: “Customers keen to go have accepted the previous entry requirements and already booked.”

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, hailed the impact of the lifting of requirements on “the recovery of US holidays” and said booking momentum would now “begin to build” for the rest of 2022 and 2023, with Florida enquiries already rising.

Polka Dot Travel director Mark Johnson said demand was “certainly there” for the US but stressed the need for less airport chaos. “That does have an impact on customer confidence as people want a holiday that is hassle-free,” he said.

US specialist agent Ken Garrity, of Ken Garrity Travel, called for tourist boards and operators to boost trade activity and destination information for agents, while Cruise365 director Anthony Blackmore said agents needed to support the US recovery.

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