HOW ARE the big holiday companies planning to cash in on the two big events in the next six months, the eclipse in August and the Millennium celebrations at the end of the year?

Ed Sims of Airtours believes they could have done better for the eclipse, and says there will be plenty of bargains before and after the Millennium:

"I think the domestic market stole a march on us, and marketed areas such as Cornwall and the Channel Islands more successfully as great destinations to watch the eclipse. We've been preoccupied with places to spend the end of the year rather than the middle of August.

"What has surprised us is how few people want to travel immediately prior to, and after, the Millennium. It's going to be a great time to pick up a last-minute bargain. If you're looking to depart after 2 December and return before 18 or 20 December, that's not moving. Those two weeks, from a tour operator's perspective, are very difficult; from a customer's viewpoint, an absolute goldmine. A good time to go long-haul, to the Caribbean or Florida. Similarly, right after the Millennium, early January will offer very attractive prices.

"If you haven't yet booked and you want to find a holiday over the Millennium, you can still find one as long as you're flexible.

"In Orlando, Florida, for example, if you're comfortable with the idea of staying in International Drive, we're still looking at individual holidays that are under pounds 1,000 for a fortnight. But you have to be prepared to go through five or six accommodation choices.

"The fact that 1 January is a Saturday couldn't be worse for us - it hits the usual Saturday ski departures, plus changeover day at a couple of Canary Islands too. [Airtours, like its rival, Britannia, does not intend to fly for several hours each side of midnight GMT on 31 December.] It makes life more complicated for us.

"Senior managers will be on duty on New Year's Eve. We have an operational regime that works from the top down, so we might have a glass in our hand, but we'll be at a PC somewhere."