Europe’s largest travel agency says Omicron hurts winter bookings

By Walé Azeez, CNN Business

TUI says an increase of Covid-19 infections and the Omicron variant takes its toll on winter holiday bookings.

Europe’s biggest travel agency said on Wednesday it had seen “positive momentum” in bookings, but that momentum had weakened due to “increased media coverage of the rise [coronavirus] incident rates and the emergence of a new variant of Omicron. »

The company said that if “current sentiment prevails” it would likely only operate about 60% of pre-pandemic capacity, down from where it had hoped to be. Bookings for this winter were currently at 62% of levels seen in 2018-19, he added.

“In light of recent trends, capacity will likely be shifted towards the lower end of our winter capacity plans, between 60% and 80%. We expect the current short-term booking behavior to continue,” TUI said in its annual report..

Covid-19 infections have increased in some of TUI’s most important markets. Germany recorded its highest daily death toll from Covid-19 since February on Wednesday as it struggles to bring a fourth wave of the pandemic under control.

In the UK, pressure is mounting on the government to introduce tougher restrictions to try to limit infections in the face of rising case numbers. The seven-day moving average on November 29 was above 45,000, the highest since a peak around October 17.

The travel industry seemed to be rebounding in recent months, after nearly two years of huge losses – until the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered in South Africa in November.

Now several countries, including the United States, banned flights from southern African countries and introduced stricter conditions for passengers. These measures threaten the recovery of the travel industry. United States had only recently opened the country to vaccinated visitors, after a ban of almost 20 months. Airline stocks rebounded in anticipation of the move earlier this month.

TUI is not alone. IAG’s British Airways canceled 2,144 flights between December and the end of March 2022 due to the pandemic, according to new research by aviation analysis firm Cirium. The airline canceled 1,146 January flights last week, Cirium said.

British Airways told CNN Business that the route the reductions were not a reaction to the Omicron variant specifically, but were part of an 18-month review of all flights.

“Like other airlines, due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule,” the company said in a statement.

EasyJet also said last month that it had seen “some easing in trade” for the first quarter of next year.

Julia Horowitz and Marnie Hunter contributed to this article.

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