Research undertaken by ForwardKeys, the travel analytics firm, reveals that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent collapse in aviation, there has been a last-minute surge in flight bookings for the Christmas period. In a normal year, tickets issued for travel in the week before Christmas tend to grow progressively throughout the year. However, in 2020, the pattern has been different, with a late rush taking place during November.

Whist the recent uplift in bookings will be welcomed by the aviation industry, international air travel over the Christmas period will, in reality, be no more than a small oasis in the desert. Air tickets issued for arrivals between 19th and 25th December look set to peak at just 20.2% of 2019 levels but bookings from 1st to 31st January are currently lower still, at just 11.6% of where they were at the equivalent point in 2019.

Condor on the way to Santo Domingo (Foto:Condor)

The last-minute rush for international flights is a direct consequence of travel restrictions changing frequently throughout the pandemic and uncertainty about official advice concerning travel over the Christmas period.
In a ranking of the destinations which are proving to be the most resilient in the week before Christmas, four of the top five are resort-oriented locations found in the warm seas to the south of the USA. As of 8th December, air tickets issued for travel to Santo Domingo, capital of the single biggest destination in the Caribbean for US visitors, the Dominican Republic, were just 21.2% behind 2019 levels. San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico occupies the second spot, with bookings 39.6% behind. It is followed by Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, the Mexican resort, Cancun and another holiday hot spot in the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana, behind 40.3%, 45.5% and 47.3% respectively. This top five list reveals a further trend, which is that many people are desperate to take a holiday. The strong showing of Sao Paulo is down to its importance as a regional travel hub and people flying to visit friends and relatives.

Las Terrenas Dominican Republic

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys said: “In normal years, we see people taking international flights during the Christmas holiday period to gather with family members they have not seen for a while. But this year, such behaviour is being dampened as it poses a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus; and it is being made more difficult by various travel restrictions. At the same time, many destinations which are heavily dependent on tourism have made strenuous efforts to stay open for business, implementing Covid-resistant protocols, to ensure their valuable leisure visitors can come and remain safe. This is particularly true of numerous places in the Caribbean and Mexico, which are entering their peak season. They are being relatively very successful, in comparison to other parts of the world, attracting visitors from their most important market, the USA, who are eager for a holiday outdoors in the sunshine. Right now, they look set to maintain tourist numbers at around 50% of normal levels, although that depends on governments not implementing any last-minute measures to avoid a third wave.”Magaly Toribio, Marketing Advisor for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, commented: “We are delighted that Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic has come out as the most resilient city for international travel this Christmas. Our free travel assistance plan, which we offer to all visitors, has ensured that the Dominican Republic is a safe destination. We are continuing to work with airlines, hotels and other in-destination stakeholders to ensure that we can welcome back more holidaymakers as quickly and safely as possible.”

Olivier Ponti concluded: “Whilst an uplift in late bookings will be welcomed by anybody working in the travel industry, they will need to be very nimble to capitalise on it, as the window of opportunity is small.”