Travel agents, tour operators and airlines are banking on a swift industry turnaround after the devastation inflicted by the Omicron fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two months.
Holidaymakers have been warned that prices for popular European destinations in peak season could be between 15pc and 23pc higher this summer.
Average holiday prices over the peak July and August period are already up 15pc on pre-pandemic levels from 2019, with many premium resorts already booked out for high-demand dates.
This is due to reduced overall capacity, increased consumer demand, higher holidaymaker spending power due to savings from repeated Covid-19 lockdowns and inflation of key service costs such as aviation fuel.
Some major holiday firms are planning a summer season offering this year at between 60pc and 80pc of pre-pandemic capacity.
However, the ongoing fallout from the Omicron wave has resulted in great value holiday offers between February and April, some of which are 30pc below 2019 prices.
Flight prices have also fallen between those two months as people opted not to travel during the Omicron surge and passenger numbers collapsed, resulting in some airlines offering price promotions for periods between peak and off-peak.
Travel Department executive Yvonne Boyle said the industry is expecting a significant wave of summer bookings once the uncertainty over Omicron has eased.
“There is huge pent-up demand in the market, there is no doubt about that,” she said. “But there is also reduced capacity within the industry in Europe. Certainly our bookings so far are ahead of our expectations and on a par with 2019 levels.”
Ms Boyle said hotels and airlines have already increased their prices to Irish holiday firms, with air travel expected to become even more expensive, given the surge in global fuel costs.
She said one of the unique aspects of the Irish market this year, as a direct consequence of the pandemic, is people increasingly opting for premium holidays with a healthy dimension, such as walking breaks, activities and guided tours.
“Walking and trekking holidays have been absolutely huge for us so far this season in Ireland, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Croatia,” Ms Boyle said.
She added that many Irish holidaymakers have booked early this year to secure lower prices as well as access to premium packages and resorts.
TUI, Europe’s biggest holiday firm, is bullish at the prospects for the 2022 summer season, despite recent uncertainty because of Omicron.
The company revealed that across its Irish, UK and European market, it had secured 4.1 million bookings for the 2022 season by last month. This compares with 5.2 million bookings for the whole of its 2021 summer season.
Bookings for last July and August were double those booked for the same period in 2020.
“For winter and the coming year, it is clear that holidaymakers are choosing higher-value offers, more package tours and are also prepared to plan a larger budget for their holidays,” TUI chief executive Fritz Joussen said.
TUI said its 2021 summer offering had been a great success.
“We expect summer 2022 and the peak travel season to return to booking levels similar to pre-Covid-19 in 2019,” he said.
Mr Joussen also said signs showed that for 2022, holidaymakers were prepared to splash out.
Travel company bosses said holidaymakers were clearly now willing to spend the savings they had built up during the pandemic because of repeated lockdowns over the past two years.
Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has also warned that summer holiday prices could prove significantly higher between June and August due to the likely combination of resurgent consumer demand and lower capacity across airlines and resorts.
Spain, Italy, France and Portugal remain Ireland’s favourite sun holiday destinations, with Spain’s Costa del Sol and the Balearic and Canary Islands having been consistently popular for more than half-a-century.
Before the pandemic hit, around 30,000 flights departed from Ireland each year for the Costa del Sol.
However, the UK remains the top destination for Irish travellers in terms of overall numbers, with more Irish people flying through London airports than anywhere else outside Dublin.
Greece and Croatia have become increasingly popular in recent years.
The expansion in activity holidays has focused on Italy, France, Spain and Croatia, with trekking breaks such as the Camino de Santiago attracting increasing numbers of Irish travellers.
Holiday firm TD Active said bookings for activity holidays were running at near-record levels.
The major casualty of the pandemic has been long-haul holidays, particularly the North American market.
Washington imposed a ban on European holidaymakers in 2020, and this was only eased late last year.
The recovery of the long-haul market has been slowed by continuing concerns over Covid-19 test requirements and the potential for localised lockdowns and quarantine demands.