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Long-haul travel, cruises and experiential holidays are taking off post-pandemic

Book early to avoid high prices is the advice coming from travel industry experts this year

Ireland’s travel industry is making progress on its journey back to the future. Though figures for the outbound travel sector were not yet back to the pre-pandemic days of 2019, they are getting there.

It is why, overall, the industry is content. “Some agents are well ahead of 2019, and others are not quite there yet, but we are on the right track,” says Clare Dunne, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA), which represents more than 100 member companies.

Despite the factors mitigating against it, including Israel’s war in Gaza and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, “demand is still strong, and people are already booking for summer ‘24,” says Dunne.

The direction of travel is changing too. “We have started to see a rise in long-haul. Post-Covid, the recovery that came first was with domestic travel, because it was all we could do, followed by European travel. In 2023 we saw long-haul come back,” she says.


Cruise bookings rose last year too, following post-pandemic wariness. People started booking cruises for the 2025/2026 season before Christmas, says Dunne.

“The value people get from cruises is really good, not just in terms of pricing but in terms of budgeting. With a cruise people know exactly what they are going to have to pay for accommodation, entertainment, food and drinks. They don’t have to spend a penny more unless they want to,” Dunne explains.

There is great value to be had for early bookers of all sorts of holidays. “I saw one last week for two adults and two children, for a week in Spain in August, for less than €2,500. For those with children able to travel in May, it was less than €1,500. So there are good prices to be had but what we are saying is book now,” Dunne says.

It is particularly important given that supply has not yet come back up to 2019 levels, despite the increase in demand. As well as delays bringing some properties back on stream, some airlines that pulled out of Ireland during the pandemic have yet to return, curbing capacity, Dunne says.

For family holidays it is important to book early, especially if you plan on going during peak dates says Michelle Anderson, marketing executive at Topflight. The Italy specialist recently launched a range of new escorted tours, including to Lake Como, Puglia and the Cinque Terre.

“Bella Italia on Lake Garda is one of our most popular family holiday destinations. With bespoke holidays like our Andrea Bocelli Summer Experience we would suggest booking early to ensure a spot as spaces are limited. Also with our selection of tours, they have also limited capacity for each date,” Anderson says.

“Many customers simply want to get the booking made so they can sit back, relax and have something to look forward to. At this stage the bookings for ski 24/25 are coming in, with people anxious to get their preferred choice booked well in advance.”

Though Topflight is perhaps best known for its ski holidays, it has successfully grown sales of summer holidays in Austria too. This year it is offering a choice of six escorted tours based in beautiful resorts such as Zell am See, Mayrhofen and St Johann in Tirol, all popular with families who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.

Tailor-made holiday specialist Oroko Travel enjoyed a strong 2023. “The biggest trend for us has been the return of long-haul, particularly in relation to family adventures,” says managing director, Brendan Breen

In 2019, 60 per cent of its sales were long-haul. By 2022, that had dropped to 15 per cent.

“People simply did not want to go to a destination that required two flights. What that meant was that Ireland behaved differently to other markets. If you lived in the UK, you could get to a long-haul destination in one flight. Irish people avoided the two-flight option and went to Europe, the Middle East, and North America instead. But in 2023 we saw the return of long-haul,” says Breen.

A number of other trends emerged too. “For a start, older couples have really gone all out on bucket list destinations such as Japan, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador, and for expedition led cruises to the Galápagos and Antarctica,” says Breen.

Last year long-haul destinations accounted for 40 per cent of Oroko’s sales. This year that figure will be back to 60 per cent, Breen predicts.

Last year proved a good one for Keith Prowse Attractions too. It specialises in holidays based around theatre, sports and theme parks. “We were up significantly on 2019, the last comparable year, so we are very happy,” says Caroline Quigley, its general manager.

Another brand under the Keith Prowse umbrella, Choir Contact Ireland, looks after the travel needs of Irish choirs travelling to choral festivals abroad, events which returned en masse in 2023 too.

Sister brand Institute for Culture Travel, which specialises in opera, ballet and music travel, also performed strongly. “Group travel was the last to come back post-pandemic,” Quigley says.

More than just pent-up demand, Quigley believes such activity is part of a growing desire to get more from our holidays. “Experiential travel has taken off post-pandemic,” she says, pointing to the fact that the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament, for which Keith Prowse is an official reseller in Ireland, sold out for 2024 before Christmas. “In 20 years of doing this, that’s a first,” she says.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times