Virgin Atlantic sales chief targets ‘best summer ever’ as rebound grows

Virgin Atlantic’s global sales chief says the carrier is targeting “the best summer ever” after seeing a quicker rebound than predicted on transatlantic routes.

Lee Haslett, the airline’s vice-president of global sales, told the first Travel Weekly Business Breakfast since early 2020 that a “stop-start” turn of year had slowly improved to the point where Virgin is now ahead of its revenue plan.

“We had to wait a long time to get going again, and when around 70% of your overall capacity is to North America, we felt that pain during that long period of no US travel,” he said.

“But we were heading in a strong direction until Omicron hit, and we’ve been a bit stop-start since then. January was a little on the slower side but the end of February saw a very good performance from our perspective.

“As we stand today, we are well ahead of our revenue plan and we’re feeling very confident ahead of Easter and summer. At Virgin Atlantic we’re coining the phrase that we think it will be the best summer ever.”

Haslet said the airline is also feeling “optimistic” about corporate recovery, adding: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen certain industry verticals do phenomenally well.

“Entertainment production has continued to do well, for example, and when you have more seats than any other airline to LA from London, we’ve been able to really capitalise on that.”

Giles Hawke, chief executive of Cosmos, Globus and Avalon Waterways, told delegates 2022 had got off to a positive start, despite some older customers remaining apprehensive about travelling.

Some of our older customers are still a little nervous and of course we understand that, but all 2022 travel bookings automatically come with our free Peace of Mind Travel Plan,” he said. “We are encouraging people to travel as much as possible.

“Bookings are ahead of where they were at this stage in 2019 which is really encouraging. People want to get away after the last two years and they’re thinking about where the best and most safe destinations are.”

Steve Witt, co-founder of homeworking company Not Just Travel, told delegates the company had grown by 150 franchise recruits during the pandemic, and reported a “collapsed booking curve” for short-term departures.

“About 60% of our bookings right now are for the next 12 weeks,” he said. “As a result of people booking close in we’re seeing a very collapsed booking curve, and if we look at the seven and 14-day windows, it’s one of the highest booking rates we’ve ever seen.”

Eleni Skarveli, director UK & Ireland for the Greek National Tourist Office, predicted a positive year for the country, buoyed by the recent scrapping of its Passenger Locator Form.

“Last year was great for Greece but this year will be even greater,” she said. “We think it will be much easier and more relaxed for visitors to Greece in 2022 due to the easing of restrictions. We’re hoping this will be the year we get back to 2019 figures.

“We are going to keep our customers as informed as possible about all the upcoming changes to give them assurance when it comes to visiting Greece.”

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