New data highlights that UK travellers have turned away from Europe during ongoing Brexit limbo; easyJet warns of ‘softness’ in advanced bookings

After approaching three years of uncertainty the date that the United Kingdom was due to leave the European Union has now passed. But, Brexit hasn’t yet happened and we are still unclear how, or even if, it will. What is certain now though is that it is impacting public confidence and impacting summer season travel plans.

New data from intelligence specialist ForwardKeys, which predicts future travel patterns by analysing booking transactions, has revealed that summer season bookings from the UK to European Union countries are lagging -4.6% on last year.

Its analysis of tour operator bookings for UK outbound travel, from January to the end of October this year predicts that overall there will be flat growth this summer. Partly balancing the European decline, bookings to the rest of the world (non-EU) are ahead a significant +13.8%, but air travel between the UK and EU countries accounts for around 70% of Britain’s total traffic, leaving the total summer season outlook behind -0.2% on the same period last year.

Having only entered the northern hemisphere summer schedule this past weekend you could see late bookings help recover some of this lost demand, but the first quarter of the year is generally key to holiday bookings. According to ForwardKeys, European summer travel was 59% booked by the end of March last year.

The future booking data for the remainder of the summer makes even more interesting reading when you compare it to the performance of Q1, ahead of the originally proposed 29-Mar-2019 Brexit departure date. While EU demand from the UK was still lagging behind rest of the world (+0.4% year-on-year versus +2.6%, delivering a +1.3% rise in bookings), it was still up the first quarter of 2018.

This year, it seems the traditionally top European destinations have taken a hit from waning British demand. The ForwardKeys data shows that Spain, with a 53% EU market share, is currently behind -7.0% on UK summer bookings compared to last year. Greece (with the second largest EU market share from the UK at 22%) is behind 2.7%, while Cyprus (-6.9%) and Portugal (-10.6%) are showing falls versus last year. Anomalies are Italy (+8.4%), Croatia (+5.5%) and Bulgaria (+16.3%).

Outside of the European Union, British travellers are instead flocking elsewhere in the southern Mediterranean. Turkey, with a huge 40% share of non-EU holiday bookings, is seeing demand ahead almost a third (+31%) on last year, according to ForwardKeys.

They are also returning to North Africa in large numbers, continuing a trend observed over summer 2018 as security concerns started to fade. Bookings to Tunisia are up +152% versus last summer and Egypt up +31%, according to the data.

Looking further afield and Jamaica has seen bookings rise by almost a quarter (+24%), while Cuba (-22%) and the United States of America (-5%) see the largest declines among the largest country markets by traveller share.

The Brexit uncertainty hangs both ways its appears and while the UK’s outbound performance remained resilient during the first quarter of 2019, EU bookings to the UK slowed considerably during the period, down from a 5.9% growth in Q4 2018 to just a 0.2% rise in Q1 2019. This was also visible in bookings from the rest of the world too, according to the ForwardKeys data with booking growth down from 5.7% in Q4 2018 to 1.7% in Q1 2019.

But on a brighter note, ForwardKeys says the Easter outlook for EU travel to the UK is much more positive with bookings currently ahead +7.7% with the major origin markets, Germany (+7%), Netherlands (+8%), France (+16%), Sweden (+1%), Spain (+9%) and Italy (+23%), all showing growth.

Olivier Ponti, vice president insights at ForwardKeys, says what while “uncertainty over Brexit is clearly affecting people’s thinking about holiday travel plans… there’s still plenty of confidence in the market.” This is reflected in increased seat capacity for the summer season with one-way seats between the EU and the UK set to grow +2.7% year-on-year in summer 2018, reversing last year’s -0.4% decline, but still a rate below other years since the Brexit vote.

The ForwardKeys data supports easyJet’s recent comments that the Brexit crisis was hurting its business and impacting future bookings. It described an “increasing softness” in fares among the reasons it was taking a more cautious approach on its prospects for the next six months. It expects to report half-year losses of GBP275 million

“For the second half we are seeing softness in both the UK and Europe, which we believe comes from macroeconomic uncertainty and many unanswered questions surrounding Brexit which are together driving weaker customer demand,” said its chief executive, Johan Lundgren as it updated investors. However, on a positive note, whatever the outcome of Brexit, it says it will be “flying as usual”.