Travel Insights September

Last-minute summer sales surge as Cook customers switch bookings

Travel agents in Germany handled an unexpected flood of last-minute bookings in late September as Thomas Cook customers quickly switched to other tour operators following the company’s insolvency, the latest monthly Travel Insights sales analysis showed.

Sales revenues for holidays in September and October (the final months of the summer 2019 season) surged by a headline-grabbing 27% in September, according to analysis of sales by 2,000 representative travel agencies, OTAs and tour operator websites by market researchers Travel Data + Analytics (TDA). With Thomas Cook Germany declaring insolvency on September 25, the overwhelming bulk of these sales appear to have taken place in the final few days of the month.

Traditional travel agents were the big winners of this unexpected boom, registering a 30% rise in revenues for summer 2019 holidays during the month. Online sales revenues were only 22% higher.

Many Cook customers appear to have quickly contacted their travel agency following the collapse of Germany’s second-largest tour operator in order to book an alternative holiday. Other leading tour operators were quick to offer Cook customers easy booking conditions with free cancellation options in order to secure extra business.

The 'Cook effect' is also reflected in the detailed September figures. A high 41.3% of the monthly turnover in September 2019 was due to short-term departures in September and October. This was a remarkable 5.9 percentage points higher than the same month of the previous year. As a result, revenues for holidays with departures in September improved to a small 0.3% drop from a 1.4% fall as per end-August, and October showed growth of 6.7% compared to +2.9% at the end of August.

However, there is one big 'But' in this 27% growth figure, TDA pointed out. It does not include any cancellations of Thomas Cook holidays. The insolvent company has officially cancelled all its holidays up to December 31, 2019 (at the time of writing) but under German insolvency law travel agents cannot yet change or cancel their customer bookings. The consolidated growth figure would therefore be significantly lower if it included refund payments to customers.

Moreover, this short-term boom in September has not had any significant impact on the overall figures for summer 2019 due to its relatively low volume compared to sales ahead of the traditional peak summer months. As a result, summer 2019 remains at 0% growth on a cumulative basis.

In addition, there was seemingly little effect on the forthcoming winter 2019/20 season. Winter sales revenues dropped by 3% in September compared to the same month last year, leaving them 4% lower on a cumulative basis.