From cruising around the Mediterranean, to backpacking across South America, international travel is set to return full force this year.
‘Revenge travel’ is a phrase being used to describe the desire to travel that emerged last year, as people took to the skies, seas and roads to make up for the trips they missed due to the pandemic.
That desire to explore the world is set to continue in 2023, with travel agents across the country reporting a surge in demand this January.
“We are very, very busy,” said Clare Dunne, Managing Director of The Travel Broker in Dublin.
“We are all working flat out to keep up with enquiries.”
For many travel agents, business is about to get even busier as the Holiday World Show takes place this weekend at the RDS after a three year absence.
The event aims to give people the inside track on where to visit, with travel experts from 50 countries around the world on hand to answer your questions.
“The array of exhibitors demonstrates just how strong the travel industry is and the appetite amongst the public for travel,” said Maria Hourican CEO of Holiday World Show.
What are the top holiday destinations for 2023?
Spain continues to be the most popular destination for Irish holiday goers, according to the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).
Paul Hackett, President of the ITAA and CEO of travel agent Click&Go, said Irish people make over two million trips to Spain every year.
“Spain is 20 destinations in one,” Mr Hackett explained.
“You have the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, the Costas, the cities – and that is where the real volume is,” he added.
Ruben López-Pulido, the Director of the Spanish Tourism Office in Dublin said their data shows that half of the Irish population travels to Spain every year.
“Spain continues to be the number one destination for the Irish market and its market share is 90% higher than the next three destinations combined – France, Italy and Portugal,” he said.
“That makes Ireland the most loyal country to Spain – a sister country, having the highest per capita ratio of travellers to Spain.”
When asked why he thinks the Irish love Spain so much, he said: “excellent wines, excellent food and the best lifestyle where you can live like a local.”
The Spanish Tourism Office in Dublin expects Lanzarote and the other Canary Islands to again be the top destinations this year, followed by Andalusia and Cataluña.
All Covid restrictions have been lifted across Spain, however masks are recommended on public transport.
Mr López-Pulido said the country is almost back to pre-pandemic visitor numbers.
“We are awaiting the final data, but Spain is posed to be the number one destination in the world in 2022, surpassing France in both the number of tourists and in expenditure,” he said.
He said tourist spending last year stood at €87 billion, 95% of the spending in 2019.
“This makes 2022 the third best year in the entire historical series,” Mr López-Pulido said.
And that trend looks set to continue this year, with Paul Hackett of the ITAA and Click&Go, stating that the Canary Islands have some of the best prices for summer 2023.
Travel agents say Italy, Greece and Portugal are also proving popular this year.
Are holidays more expensive this year?
If you’re planning your first holiday abroad since the pandemic started, you can certainly expect to pay more.
Prices for this year are up between 10-20% when compared to 2019, according to Mr Hackett.
The main reasons are higher staff, input and fuel costs.
He said prices are tracking similar to last year.
People are also booking their holidays earlier this year, which is pushing up prices as availability dwindles.
But those price hikes aren’t softening demand.
“The people with the money for an overseas holiday seem less impacted by inflation and I think they feel the worst is over,” Mr Hackett said.
Nevertheless, travel agents say value for money is more important than ever for their clients.
Many people are choosing to book all inclusive packages, so they know exactly how much they’re spending.
“When meals and drinks are included, you have clarity on the total cost of the holiday,” Mr Hackett said.
Are big budget holidays back?
Irish households saved billions during the Covid lockdowns, but where did those pandemic savings go?
Well, according to Clare Dunne of The Travel Broker, some of those savings are being spent on big budget once-in-a-lifetime holidays for 2023.
She said long-haul is back – with people looking to go on African safaris, to the Maldives, Barbados, the USA and beyond.
“There is a backlog of big birthdays, anniversaries and other events which didn’t get celebrated between 2020 and 2022, and so people who managed to save some money during the pandemic, feel now is the time to celebrate,” she said.
“Some families have missed multiple occasions and so they’re taking the opportunity to travel together to celebrate together.
“Others are not waiting for those events and are deciding to treat themselves now – because we never know what the future may hold for any of us,” she added.
Ms Dunne said many people are opting for multi-generational holidays, where parents, adult children and their children are all looking to travel together.
She said cruises and large villas are very popular for these clients.
Has the cruise industry recovered from the Covid hit?
While the cruise industry took a huge hit during the pandemic, cruise lines have reported a jump in demand.
Paul Hackett, of the ITAA and Click&Go said they had their strongest selling months for cruise holidays between September and November last year for sailings in 2023.
28 brand new ships were launched last year, further boosting business.
“Cruise is amazing value and people who cruise, repeat the experience,” he said.
“It’s a floating resort, often with more facilities, better choices, better service and better prices than a land based holiday,” he added.
According to Royal Caribbean International, the number of travellers considering a cruise is the highest it has been in two years and nearing pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re seeing a very positive start to 2023 based on the last few years,” said Jennifer Callister, Head of Ireland for Royal Caribbean International.
“We’re confident that the business will have a year of growth ahead,” she added.
Ms Callister said European and Caribbean cruises tend to be the most popular with Irish customers.
“Explorer of the Seas, sailing from Ravenna, Symphony of the Seas, sailing from Barcelona, and Odyssey of the Seas, sailing from Rome, are real hits,” she said.
She added that their West and East Caribbean itineraries that stop off at the ‘Perfect Day at CoCoCay’ island are also popular with people from Ireland.
The appeal of a cruise for many is that it allows you to see a number of countries in one trip.
“Irish guests love to travel and visit new places and the convenience of doing this on a cruise where you only have to unpack once is very appealing,” Ms Callister said.
“It’s a short flight from Ireland to our European homeports where guests can get onboard some of the world’s most game-changing ships and see some of Europe’s most legendary shores,” she added.
The myth that cruising is just for the older generation is slowly being debunked, according to Ms Callister.
“We’re seeing more young guests discover cruising for the first time.
“We design our ships to have exciting features for the whole family,” she added.
Amid the cost of living crisis, Royal Caribbean International said the team is “acutely aware” of the pressures being faced by customers.
When asked if cruise prices have increased, Ms Callister said that as a global company, Royal Caribbean International is “not immune to issues like these.”
“We know that even during tough times, consumers want and need a holiday, and will look at the overall value a cruise holiday offer,” she added.
How can I find a good deal?
The top advice from the travel experts is to book early.
“We expect this to be a very busy year and for prices to rise as availability reduces,” said Ms Dunne of The Travel Broker.
Travelling off peak and mid-week, can help to bring down the costs.
Ms Dunne said evening and late flights can also be good value.
“Personally I tend to travel on the later flights and love to grab a light bite when I arrive at my accommodation and then get a good night’s rest and awake in my new destination ready to enjoy a full day ahead,” she said.
If your budget is tight, Ms Dunne said it could be a good option to reduce your duration by a day or two, rather than reducing the quality of your holiday.
“Have a pamper day at home prior to your departure, turn off your email and arrive rested and ready to relax and enjoy,” she suggested.
When searching for a good deal, Ms Dunne said to focus on value, not price.
“What looks to be the cheapest option at first can often prove to be the most expensive in the end if you have to add on lots of extras and most importantly if it doesn’t deliver in terms of what you expect from your holiday.”
If you’re searching for a cruise holiday, Ms Dunne said there are often good deals for cruises with longer durations at the beginning and end of each season when ships reposition around the globe.
Has the industry recovered from Covid?
Ten travel agents in Ireland closed down during the Covid-19 pandemic – two large companies and eight small businesses.
“Considering there was practically zero trading for 18 months, this is amazing,” Mr Hackett of the ITAA said.
This was down to the support provided by the Government during this time, he said.
“Trade associations like the ITAA worked closely with Government – the Government listened, and the vast majority of businesses survived,” he said.
“We worked hard to support our travel agent members and they in turn worked tirelessly to support and assist their customers,” he said.
As the industry got back on its feet last year, licensed travel agents alone recorded a turnover of €1.3 billion.
When asked if her business had fully recovered, Clare Dunne of The Travel Broker said they are “well on the way”.
“We really need a good 2023 to get back to where we need to be,” she said.
When asked if she is fearful of another shutdown, she said: “As a business, The Travel Broker has survived a Gulf War, 9/11, foot and mouth disease, travel restrictions, several avian flu outbreaks, the Icelandic ash cloud shutdown, a gruelling recession and Covid.”
“I have no doubt that the future will bring more challenges – which we will face and cope with,” she said.