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Holiday sales at record levels

Britons are flocking in record numbers to book their summer holidays early, prompted by a squeeze on late bargains and a return, travel agents say, of the elusive "feelgood factor".

So far, sales for summer 1997 are up by 30 per cent to a record 2.3 million, with the rush expected to continue into January in what is expected to be a bumper year for the holiday industry.

According to Going Places, the UK's second largest travel agent after Lunn Poly, when doors re-opened after Boxing Day bookings on Friday alone were up a quarter on last year.

"Lots of people have voted with their feet. Consumers have realised that the days of the cheap late bargain have gone," said Tony Bennett, Going Places' managing director.

"There is also some evidence of a feelgood factor there. More people are buying cruises or going further away. Not only are volumes up, but the value of each holiday is, too."

The news follows a record time for winter breaks as many thousands jetted off in search of skiing and sun at Christmas.

After a profits battering two years ago, when too many holidays were offered and sold at a loss late on, the industry cut the number of packages to eight million from nine million last year.

Tour operators are sticking to that number this year and are predicting 900,000 fewer last minute holidays in 1997 than in 1996. Late price rises of 15 per cent are also on the cards, after an average 18 per cent last year.

To tempt early bookers, holiday firms are also offering hefty discounts and other inducements.

Going Places knocked up to 25 per cent off packages on Friday, started an 18 month TV sponsorship deal with Cilla Black's Blind Date last night and is opening its doors to the public today.