The year 2020 was a colossal year for many nations getting to grips with the virus that has closed international travel off for many, whilst airports sit empty and planes grounded on lonely tarmacs. However, throw in Brexit, the AstraZeneca vaccine, lockdowns, and travel restrictions, and the United Kingdom has been on a never-ending see-saw of ups and downs.

ForwardKeys was invited to participate in the UK Travel Retail Forum and here are the key learnings disclosed from that event.

A Christmas boom that never came

Many people within the travel sector in Europe hoped for a busy Christmas holidays travel period in the UK, as witnessed over the Summertime with UK travellers flocking to Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and Spain. However, with many denizens placed into Tier4 restrictions post Autumn Half Term school holidays, it placed a significant dampener both on international departures as well as arrivals.

202102-Destination-Spotlight-UK-1--1In fact, when examining the top international origin cities to the United Kingdom in December 2020, the most resilient cities were in India. Kochi was up by 52% and Amritsar +18%. Islamabad in Pakistan was only down by 21%.

“These issued tickets show that it wasn’t the leisure market driving the sales to the UK, rather the VFR market. As we’ve noticed in other parts of Europe, the VFR market is an audience to take note of to leverage whatever bookings you can make during this pandemic,” says Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys.

The Seat Capacity for intercontinental travel as well as intra-European travel saw seats increased in December, however, while intercontinental travel peaked at 34% of 2019 levels, intra-European capacity was only half of Summer recovery levels.

202102-Destination-Spotlight-UK-2From October 1 – December 31 the most active city pairs in terms of air traffic stemmed from Paris and Amsterdam. The most popular routes from London were to Madrid and Lisbon with the YoY variation down by 72.1%. Not really destinations famous for their Christmas Markets.

What’s next for the United Kingdom?

While some travellers wait to learn the latest regarding the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine on the latest strains, others are already booking their summer holidays.

Looking at the Air Ticket data for tickets issued for travel from June 4 to 21 September 2021 versus the same time in the previous year, the usual international destinations are positioned in the top five: Corfu, Orlando, Faro, Las Vegas, and Ibiza.

202102-Destination-Spotlight-UK-3-“This goes to show you that the desire to travel and pent-up demand are real. With the right travel conditions put in place and governments installing more confidence than fear in travelling abroad, not everything needs to about doom and gloom for the travel sector in 2021,” ends Ponti.


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