Package holiday bargains sell out

Cheap deals: Last-minute giveaways scarce as tour companies vow not to repeat last summer's suicidal discounts

Anyone looking to match 1995's last-minute package holiday giveaways could be left kicking their heels at home, according to two of Britain's largest tour operators.

Airtours and Thomson believe that a combination of discounts for early bookers and a sharp fall in the number of holidays on offer has foiled the bargain hunters.

Harry Coe, the finance director at Airtours, said that lower capacity had led to fewer bookings - down 16 per cent on last year - but that it had also put an end to the suicidal discounts that had stung the industry last summer.

"If you walked down the high street last weekend and looked at the prices being demanded for departures in August, you'd have seen prices were pounds 60 higher than was the case at the same time last year.''

A typical example was a fortnight on the Costa Brava, on offer in high- street travel agents for more than pounds 300, compared with an original brochure price of pounds 350. Last year the same booking might have been as little as pounds 225, said Mr Coe.

Thomson claimed to have given only half as many discounts this year as in 1995, with much smaller price reductions.

In recent years the holiday market has been dogged by job insecurity, hot summers at home and an increasing weariness with tacky, over-developed holiday destinations. Now more upmarket holidays, including long-haul trips and cruises, are the most buoyant area of the market.

Tour operators are still licking their wounds from a disastrous 1995, when 10 million holidays failed to find enough buyers.

By August last year the likes of Airtours, First Choice and Thomson were giving away breaks at prices that barely covered aircraft charter and hotel block- booking.

Profits at leading companies plunged and they vowed last autumn not to make the same mistake again. This summer, capacity has been cut to 8.5 million holidays. Mr Coe said it means customers have found it increasingly difficult to buy the holiday they want.

As a result of smaller discounts, many are plumping to pay full price for a named hotel they can see pictures of rather than take a chance on an unnamed venue for a saving of maybe only pounds 40.

The tone was set for this summer when Thomson introduced "fluid pricing" last autumn. It rewarded early bookings with discounts and promised higher prices as summer approached. The threat to holidaymakers was that hanging on would increase the cost rather than throw up the bargains they had come to expect.

A spokesman at Thomson said: "It was such an obvious idea, it is amazing really that no one had thought of it before."

Airtours added a new twist to the cut-throat battle for a share of the package market this season when it launched its summer 1997 brochures at the beginning of July, before many holidaymakers had left for this year's trip. The move caused a furore in the travel business, with agents complaining they were being forced to sell holidays for three seasons at the same time.

Yesterday, however, Airtours claimed the tactic had been an overwhelming success, giving it 50 per cent of the holidays so far sold for next year.

The spokeswoman for Thomson said the claim was meaningless, as it had only launched its own 1997 holidays last week. She said Thomson had sold more holidays in three days than Airtours managed in the whole of July.

Mr Coe said it was too early to suggest a return of the feel-good factor to the holiday market. But he said more costly holidays, including trips and cruises to faraway destinations, were the most expansive area of the market.

Analysts said the holiday companies appeared to have made a better fist of matching supply and demand this year but they questioned whether the industry had really cured itself of its volatility.

Rising profits, they said, would inevitably lead to more capacity, increasing competition and the return of the last-minute bargain.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam