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Foreign holidays are in demand, so don’t wait around for last-minute deals

Multi-generational holidays increasingly popular as people prioritise travel over other discretionary spends

If you thought the fact that Dublin Airport was running out of car parking spaces was an indicator that things are a little different this summer, you’d be right.

If you thought you’d ignore the signs and just wait to nab a last-minute holiday deal anyway, chances are you’d be wrong.

“Prices are up 20 per cent across the board – for hotels, for flights, for everything,” says Claire Doherty, product director at Travel Department.

Not even the falling cost of fuel will help. “Airlines have hedged their fuel, so we won’t be benefiting from that any time soon,” says Doherty.


So don’t pin your hopes on last-minute deals. “There are none,” she says. That’s because not only is demand up, but capacity has fallen.

“The boom last year from pent up post-Covid demand has remained. There are still many people who haven’t yet been away. On top of that, in my 25 years of travel, I’ve never seen anything like the lack of availability we’re currently experiencing,” says Doherty.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in fewer people travelling to Russia, and indeed China.

“Both are destinations we would have sent thousands of people to in previous years, which means those people are now going somewhere else,” Doherty explains. The destinations picking up the slack among Travel Departments clientele include South Africa and Vietnam.

The US, a perennial favourite for Irish holidaymakers looking to enjoy theme parks or city breaks, is also suffering, this time from an unfavourable exchange rate. “It is very expensive to get to and very expensive when you’re there. Yes people are paying more and are still willing to travel this summer, but they are still price conscious,” says Doherty.

One thing holidaymakers are not doing this year is booking late. “There was a bit of reticence to book at the start of the year when all the talk was of cost-of-living increases, but that has died down,” Doherty says.

“Last year people booked later only to find that prices were high. People have booked well in advance because they realise there are availability issues.”

Travel Department has added capacity to some of its most popular summer breaks, including river cruises, which have seen a particular surge.

“It’s just a lovely thing to do because it’s so relaxing. Unlike sea cruises, which I love too, the great thing about a river cruise is that you pull up, get off the boat and you’re in the city centre in minutes. There’s no long wait to be moored, or transfers from port to city,” Doherty explains.

“You’re pulled up right in a city such as Budapest, where all the government buildings are lit up at night, and you can just sit on the top deck and have cocktails and enjoy the view.”

Travel Department has also introduced new trips to Portugal and Italy this summer which have proven popular, including a guided tour of the Alentejo region in Portugal.

Meanwhile, Sister brand TD Active has beefed up capacity for walking holidays. “They are just flying out the door. I think everybody took up walking during Covid and many have kept it up, so it’s what loads of people want to do,” says Doherty.

The company still has some availability for its most popular walking destinations including Spain, Austria and Madeira, direct flights for which have been reinstated after a few years of absence.

Things are busy at Topflight too. “It is a very strong summer, and even September and October are seeing very strong bookings,” says Michelle Anderson, its marketing manager.

Far from simply recovering to pre-Covid levels, this summer’s bookings at the holiday firm are even better than 2019.

“We’re seeing a real confidence in terms of travel spend. I think people are prioritising travel over other discretionary spending and that feels like a legacy of the pandemic,” adds Anderson.

“People are still telling us they want something to look forward to, that they are looking for an experience and a chance to spend time together. We heard that a lot coming out of Covid, but we’re still hearing it this year.”

As a result, bookings for multi-generational family groups are up this summer, particularly for destinations such as Italy, a Topflight speciality.

“We’re seeing huge demand for Lake Garda and the Amalfi Coast,” Anderson says.

“Lake Garda is very much a family destination. A huge amount of our clients stay at Bella Italia in Peschiera, which is close to water parks and Gardaland for youngsters, while older teens can explore Venice and Verona.” Topflight’s resort managers, a fixture of its holidays, help people make the most of their surrounds.

The company also specialises in Austria, including its popular escorted breaks which include three daylong excursions.

“We underestimated capacity on these early on because they sold out, so we added more and now that additional capacity is almost gone again,” Anderson says.

Topflight recently launched Crafted for You, tailoring bespoke holiday packages which allow clients to mix and match between, for example, two nights in Rome and a week in Sorrento.

“Even though prices have gone up by 15 to 20 per cent, people are going for nice four- and five-star properties more,” Anderson explains.

“They are treating themselves. People value their holidays. It seems to be something they’re just not budging on and if they can put a little extra into it, they will.

“There is greater awareness too of the tightness of availability this summer, that there will be no last-minute deals. If you’re holding out for one, it won’t happen.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times