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Travel: Passport to travel: News from the Industry.

If you want a cheap summer holiday, clear your diary for late April and early May - when the pounds 99 bargains are most likely to come along.

That's the prediction of Steve Endacott, boss of Holidays by Phone, as the experts begin to assess the results of the New Year advertising blitz.

With widely advertised discounts of more than 50 per cent, the verdict in the trade is that the campaign began poorly.

This is because would-be travellers have come to believe prices are inflated to generate phoney discounts in second and third edition brochures. In early January, bookings were running 30 per cent below the same time last year. But they picked up last week to within ten per cent of last year and three of the main operators - Thomson, Airtours and First Choice - have done well.

Thomson's figures are boosted by heavy sales of seat-only flights for travellers who arrange their own accommodation.

But Thomas Cook-owned JMC and Cosmos are lagging behind the rest of the pack, and could be 40 per cent down on last year.

Generally, sales are strongest at present for winter sun and long-haul travel, as well as skiing in Europe.

Endacott says: 'Greece is doing well, particularly with the smaller specialist firms. Spain and the Balearics are doing well in the family market. Butlins, Center Parcs and France are very well sold. Turkey, Cyprus and Florida are not doing well.

'A game of bluff will develop among operators this summer. Capacity is already greatly reduced, so there is a big incentive to hold firm on prices.' Endacott is confident there will be plenty of bargains for couples once full summer operating capacity is built up for Easter at the start of April. Families, meanwhile, are tied to school holidays. 'Spain, Greece and some of the slow selling areas will have the best prices from pounds 99,' he predicts. 'The Canaries will hold firm between pounds 199 and pounds 249 because the sun is so reliable.'

If Endacott's prediction is correct, last-minute bookers - in April and June/July - will get the best bargains this year.

His advice will infuriate the big operators who want to get people to commit themselves early this summer.

Holidays by Phone: 0800 0155299.

be more likely to book a holiday with companies which had a written code to guarantee good working conditions, protect the environment and support local charities.

Since 1950, says Tearfund, the number of tourist arrivals worldwide each year has soared from 25 million to 700 million. British demand for long-haul travel, which has doubled since 1997, is still only in its infancy.

The survey found that travellers would be prepared to spend an extra five per cent (pounds 25) on a pounds 500 holiday to ensure it was more 'ethically sound'.

Tearfund concludes: 'People appear willing to favour companies that can show they are bringing real benefits to those living in the destinations - and even to pay more for this peace of mind and better quality product.'

Tearfund's survey was based on a national sample of 927 adults.

Ski bookings in Europe have zoomed up between six per cent and ten per cent this winter - and latecomers may find an acute shortage of brochures in travel agencies.

The market is so strong that First Choice rushed out ski brochures for 2002/3 this week.

So expect a surge in demand for the special Rail Europe overnight Ski Trains which leave Calais on March 29 and April 6.

The service from Calais-Ville goes directly to the Alps, and the return fare has been slashed by pounds 50 to just pounds 59.

On the same dates, travellers can also take the Eurostar to Paris and change at Gare du Nord to the Ski Train. Return fares from London, including sleeping berth, are from pounds 129.

Reservations: Rail Europe (0870 124 4646) or visit Rail Europe Travel Shop, 179 Piccadilly, London, W1. Website

It may be time to update the familiar image of the British tourist abroad, strolling into local flea markets and haggling for a fantastic bargain.

A report from Tearfund, one of the UK's largest aid agencies, says two-thirds of travellers would like to know how to pump more money into the local economies of poorer areas they visit on holiday.

Just over half of all travellers questioned would British visitor numbers to Florida will be at least 20 per cent down in 2001 on the 1.6 million in 2000, admits Visit Florida UK director Colin Brodie.

Leading operators like Walt Disney Travel Company would be delighted if the figure goes no lower in 2002.

All of this could pose big problems for Britons buying holiday homes in the Sunshine State, with rental income guaranteed to meet mortgage repayments.

Leading estate agents in the UK provided such promises - and scrapped them without warning after September 11.

Peter Stanhope, of the Florida Brits Real Estate agency, says there is no evidence that the move has triggered repossessions.

But non-status loans, less reliant on details of income and other personal financial circumstances, can be as high as 65 per cent of property value.

Add in management and maintenance costs and owners easily pay several thousands pounds a year simply to keep properties in good condition. Without rental income, these ongoing costs can become a real burden.

Stanhope says: 'Rental guarantees are dangling carrots for foolish buyers. There are always repossessions, and auctions happen monthly when owners present themselves on the courthouse and see their property knocked down to a new owner.

'Buyers, with readies in their back pockets, tend to be well-established US speculators rather than bargain-hunting Brits. But there is no evidence yet that more properties are becoming available because of the terror attacks.'

In any case, says Stanhope, the travel industry has been hit mainly from the drop in bookings by young families.

'Sophisticated couples, usually older, who fix their own villa, flight, car rental and insurance are less deterred,' he says. 'But most owners have felt pain to a certain extent in recent months.'

With an Abbey National subsidiary poised to begin home loans in Florida in the next couple of months, Stanhope says buyers need to work out running and repayments costs before they buy.

If they rely partly on rental income to cover costs, they must buy in areas zoned for short-term lets.

Stanhope, whose own agency Florida Brits Real Estate has been operating for six years, says plenty of rival agents have already returned to Spain.

He has new detached homes with private pools from pounds 115,000 and five-year-old versions from pounds 96,000.

. Florida Brits Real Estate: 01904 471800.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 26, 2002
Previous Article:Chess.
Next Article:Travel: Now Boarding.

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