By Maria Drukovich
Tour operators note that plenty of Belarusians will be taking foreign holidays this year, in search of sunshine and sea breezes. Bookings for this summer began in late 2012, with citizens taking advantage of early-bird offers and increased numbers of flights. Naturally, everyone likes to feel that they’ve acquired a bargain, with the ‘best value’ tours soon sold out. Already, it’s a challenge to find availability for Greece in June or Bulgaria in August.
All destinations are proving popular, with up to 30 percent growth on sales in previous years. Some agencies are seeing figures double or triple. Even Egypt is regaining its popularity, despite ongoingpolitical instability and the fact that many Belarusians have been there before, with flights booked as early as November-December 2012. Last minute deals are becoming more rare.
January and February were extremely busy for travel agents, ahead of the traditional March rush. “Tourists are planning their holidays well in advance, appreciating the advantages of booking early.I think we’ll see the same situation in 2013, keeping the trend of the past two years,” emphasises the Head of TEZ TOUR Sales Department, Yelena Yushkevich.
“Our market is becoming like that of Europe, where people book their holidays six months in advance. It’s taken six years to achieve this,” adds the Deputy Director of Rosting travel company, Oleg Malashchenko. “Many hotels have no rooms available or are now fixing high prices.”
Interestingly, more tourists are ready to pay for higher quality hotels, preferring 4 or 5 star accommodation. Of course, early booking brings discounts but cheap tours have less scope to reduce prices. “A 3 star hotel is normal for Bulgaria while those heading for Spain need 4 stars to enjoy good service. Even in choosing a 4 star hotel, tourists aren’t choosing the cheapest options,” explains Ms.Yushkevich.
Each tour operator’s sales vary but Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Spain lead everywhere. Great offers are still to be found in sunny Spain while Turkey has slightly increased prices, due to rising service levels. Bulgaria appears quite attractive but, of course, those travelling to Spain and Greece have the option of so many island destinations. “Belarusians also love Tunisia, as no visa is required to travel there. Many view this country as an alternative to Turkey. Morocco is also enjoying popularity but the need for a visa deters some. Egypt is popular all year round, regardless of fear of terrorist attacks, the heat or Earthquakes,” stresses PavelOmelkovich, from PEGAS Touristik, which liaises with agencies.
TOP TOUR admits that its clients seem to be playing safe, choosing Jordan. Meanwhile, families are going for Croatia’s flat shores. Belarusians also love Montenegro. “The Italians don’t tend to offer large discounts on early booking, so sales are just starting to this destination,” notes Rosting. New destinations this season include the Neapolitan Riviera, the south of France (Nice, Cannes and the Cote d-Azur), Portugal, Greek Peloponnese and Corfu, the Canary Islands and Vietnam. Tours to the islands of Mauritius and Sardinia are quite expensive (as even the Italians believe of the latter).
Interestingly, an increasing number of Belarusians prefer to travel south in autumn and winter. TOP TOUR’s Anna Polyakova reveals that up to 40 percent more bookings are evident. “People are seeking out the sun in Egypt, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. Naturally, such exotic destinations are much dependent on convenient connections for flights. Tourists tend to avoid spending the night at an airport.” She adds that mountain skiing is gaining popularity and that a regular Minsk-Barcelona flight is now taking Belarusians to Andorra’. “In addition, our clients are keen to tour Italy, go to Greece to buy a fur coat and to make pilgrimages to Israel. They also like celebrating New Year in Europe. Pleasingly, our flights successfully went to plan last season.”
It seems that the world is our oyster and that agencies are only too delighted to satisfy any wish, if clients have the money.