Approaching the pre-crisis level "So far, the 2022 summer season has been quite successful for us from a tourist point of view," summarizes Helga Freund, Managing Director of Ruefa, at the Ruefa Trend Talk on Tuesday. “Although there are still two months left until the end of the summer tourist season, the figures give us confidence. In any case, they will be significantly better than those in 2021 and 2020 and the gap to the record result of 2019 will be significantly smaller: We have already been able to more than double the turnover from the summer business compared to the previous year (+253 percent). Compared to the record summer of 2019, we are currently at 70,6 percent, so we have been able to generate a good two-thirds of the summer sales of 2019 to date.”
“However, the last few months have not been entirely untroubled – we have had a few spoilsports with inflation, flight chaos at neuralgic airports and of course the continued high number of corona infections. For some vacationers, that probably clouded the memory of the summer a little - and caused us a lot more work in the travel agencies," says Freund. Specifically, the colleagues in the travel agencies had to process every fourth booking that included one or more scheduled flights more than once. Charter flights, on the other hand, were little or not at all affected by the difficulties.
“Inquiries and bookings for the summer season already picked up at the turn of the year 2021/22. With the beginning of the Ukraine war, we experienced a brief weakening. Despite and precisely because of the upcoming price increases, the Austrians booked with great pleasure from May - and also at very short notice," Freund gives further insights into the summer season. Early bird offers were just as in demand as last minute (with regard to short-term departures), especially for the Mediterranean destinations, which were once again very popular – with a booking peak at the end of May and the beginning of June.
"With regard to prices, our assessment from the beginning of March has been confirmed that we saw an average increase in price of 2021 to 10 percent per destination for package tours compared to 15," explains Freund. The early bookers definitely won this year, because the higher prices already had an impact on bookings at short notice. There were two major factors for this: on the one hand the increased demand and on the other hand the increased energy costs. Especially in the dynamic area, price increases for flight tickets and hotels have an immediate effect on the travel price. Long-term purchasing, on the other hand, keeps prices stable. “As announced by us, existing bookings were not increased. With the appropriate flex options, customers are getting better and better when they book early.”
In the ranking of the most desirable destinations in summer 2022, Greece and Spain are once again at the top. The shooting stars with the highest gains are Turkey and Egypt, which were able to position themselves well thanks to their particularly attractive price-performance ratio.
Share of destinations in Ruefa sales summer 2022
- Greece 24,7%
- Spain 10,3%
- Turkey 7,2%
- Italy 7,0%
- Egypt 5,3%
- US 3,9%
- Austria 3,8%
- Germany 3,2%
- Croatia 3,0%
- Cyprus 2,7%
Customers want to travel longer with larger budgets
A study conducted among almost 4.000 Ruefa customers at the beginning of the year showed that travel is still one of the basic needs. “98 percent of our customers really wanted to travel in 2022. The wanderlust is definitely there and despite various uncertainties, 64 percent of those surveyed wanted to discover new countries and destinations after two years of Corona limitations," says Michele Fanton, Managing Director of Ruefa, providing further insights. "The hardships and limitations of recent years have meant that Ruefa customers have developed an even greater desire to travel and - compared to the Austrian average - want to take on a much higher budget," explains Fanton. Ruefa customers had a good time: they booked an average price of EUR 2022 for the 1280 summer holiday. This means that spending on summer holidays is a good third above the pre-crisis level.
“Our customers have booked diligently. In the years before the pandemic, we managed between 30 and 35 percent of our customers as regular customers and repeat customers. This share has risen to 45 percent this year – these customers have been with us faithfully and loyally for years and clearly rely on our services and the security of the travel agency,” says Fanton.
A new extra service probably also contributed to this – the “Ruefa emergency number”. “In view of the flight chaos in many places in Europe, we reacted quickly and established a service that no competitor currently offers in this form. With our "Ruefa emergency number" we have already been able to make it easier for numerous customers to start their vacation and to provide real-time help and advice in the event of uncertainties and problems," says Fanton, summing up the new service. In emergencies for weekend departures (Sat & Sun), Ruefa travel experts are available by phone.
Winter business is slowly starting, uncertainties remain
After the holiday is before the holiday - that could be the motto of the Austrians if a few new uncertainties weren't already casting their shadows ahead. "General price increases in tourism, the issue of the energy crisis and of course the unpredictable events of the pandemic - all of this interacts and influences both the mood and, of course, the holiday budget," says Freund's current assessment of the situation.
Based on the general rise in prices, an increase in prices in the single-digit percentage range is also likely for the winter season, according to Freund. The incoming bookings for the 2022/23 winter season currently reflect the absolute short-term nature and the trend towards spontaneous bookings. “At the moment we are at about a quarter of the bookings we had in the comparable periods before the pandemic. The uncertainties have fundamentally changed booking behavior," says Freund.
However, the significant increase in inquiries for the winter season in recent weeks gives reason to hope for a successful travel winter. “Our tip here is very clear: booking early pays off for the winter and actually for the spring of 2023 as well. Packages bought long-term in advance definitely offer price advantages here. Going for short-term bargains isn't a good idea - we might get an offer or two, but it's definitely not going to get any cheaper," said Fanton. The mostly only slightly more expensive flex tariffs, which are now available from the vast majority of tour operators until the end of 2023, would also speak in favor of booking as early as possible - especially for bathing trips far away.
Winter lures with new offers - off to the equator
For the winter of 2022/23, Ruefa is coming up with offers that are impressive. “We want, even have to, satisfy the wanderlust of the Austrians. Long-haul routes are very popular, and our new offers perfectly reflect the spirit of the times,” says Fanton happily.
In addition to the expected top performers Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles, other destinations around the equator are in the lead in the race for winter guests 2022/23: Africa - from Morocco to Egypt to Kenya and Tanzania/Zanzibar to South Africa and Namibia - is presented in all its diversity. “East Africa in particular is in high demand, the individuality, exoticism and diversity of the trips appeal to the Austrians,” says Fanton.
“Bookings for Asia as a whole – above all, of course, Thailand – are still somewhat cautious, but the trend is definitely positive again. It is interesting that the hotels here have good offers, the price is right. In the west, the USA and the Caribbean with their metropolises and dream beaches are always enticing, although the USD/EUR exchange rate is currently a showstopper here,” summarizes Freund.
Long-stay products are also becoming increasingly popular. Above all, free best agers and increasingly location-independent “digital workers” are escaping the cold this winter and soaking up the sun and warmth around the Mediterranean Sea or the Canary Islands – or taking advantage of the particularly attractive offers in Asia. "Stays of several weeks, which can even take months, are now not uncommon."
Two new focal points: sports travel and sustainable travel
Ruefa already has a reputation as a provider of fan travel for the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) and the handling of travel management for the entire ÖFB staff. “We want to continuously expand this range of sports trips. We have the expertise and the demand is there,” says Fanton. Both "passive athletes" with trips to football matches, tennis tournaments, racing events or games of the US professional league National Football League (NFL) are addressed. “Active athletes” use the travel packages that have been popular for years for all kinds of running events, as well as tennis camps and intensive sports and training weeks in the triathlon disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. Multi-year contracts for sponsorship and travel management were recently signed with the association Special Olympics Austria (SOÖ). In a cooperation with the sports faculty of the Wiener Neustadt University of Applied Sciences, everything revolves around the expansion of the sports travel business.
Preparations for the much-requested focus on sustainability are also in full swing - for Freund a real "heart issue - here to stay". In the last Ruefa Reisekompass 2022, Austrians wanted more sustainable travel offers (75 percent) and designated sustainable trips (55 percent). 53 percent wanted a seal of quality for sustainable travel.
“Our colleagues in purchasing have taken on this task. Under the umbrella of Verkehrsbüro Travel, we have our own tour operator, Eurotours, to create the appropriate offers, to agree with the service providers and to be able to present them well," says Freund.
“In terms of mindset, there is no either/or here, but rather a new perspective on our entire range. We are currently presenting interested customers with products in Austria and Europe that can be used to travel to the hotel by train, where the topic of e-mobility is of great importance locally or where the hotel partners have a proven ecological and regional focus,” explains Freund.
The medium-term goal of Verkehrsbüro Travel is to create a clever selection system with good orientation aids that customers can use to put together a sustainable trip according to their wishes, either independently or together with the Ruefa travel consultants. "With the sustainable product range, we will set new accents that do not mean sacrifice - but also no "green washing" -" explains Freund the approach.