Rainsoaked Brits head for sun, boosting travel profits

January's miserable weather saw Britons flee abroad as well as booking sunny summer getaways, the holidays group Tui Travel and airlines Ryanair and easyJet said yesterday.

"The weather has been utterly lousy," said Peter Long, the chief executive of Tui Travel, the owner of Thomson and First Choice. "And when you go home, and it's pouring with rain, you start looking at holiday destinations on your phone."

Almost two-thirds of Tui's online bookings are now initiated on smartphones, and Mr Long expects commuters to do so again today. "All this disruption with the weather and strikes sees people thinking, 'I need some sunshine,'" he said.

Britons' hunger for sun was evident in Tui's bookings, with the most popular for summer 2014 including Majorca, Cancun and Florida, the latter being a destination for Mr Long, who banked more than £10.1m in pay in 2013 and is this year flying his grandchildren to Disney World Florida.

"Confidence continues to improve," he said. "There is some trading up, plus a lot of people are now booking all-inclusive deals – it's growing every year and is now about 55 per cent of all bookings – so they're spending more of their holiday budget with us."

Tui narrowed its seasonal loss for the last quarter of 2013 to £108m compared with £116m a year earlier. Ryanair, which issued two profits warnings in 2013, enjoyed a 5 per cent surge in bookings in January, flying 4.6 million passengers.

It claimed the strong growth in January bookings was because of its "customer-service improvements including allocated seats", although these were actually introduced on 1 February.

Rival easyJet flew 4 million people in the first month of 2014, up 3.7 per cent on a year earlier, and Aer Lingus enjoyed the same trend.

Although the Irish carrier flew just 0.2 per cent extra passengers in January, at 572,000, demand for its more lucrative long-haul services rose 7.3 per cent, offsetting a 1 per cent fall in short-haul traffic.