After a torrid two years for the travel industry, things are finally beginning to look up.
"From mid-January the trajectory has been up, significantly up," said Paul Hackett, President of the Irish Travel Agents Association and CEO of Click&Go. "We've had three record days in a row this week. Tuesday was the best day we had in two years, that was beaten on Wednesday, and that was beaten on Thursday.
"It’s still not back to normal – it’s probably at about 50% of what 'normal’ is – but the trend is what we’re looking at, and the confidence and volume of bookings."
From the travel agents he’s spoken to as part of his role with the ITAA, Mr Hackett says the same pattern is reflected around the country.
The removal of testing requirements for vaccinated travelers earlier this month gave the first boost to the country’s travel agents and, as positive sounds about the Covid situation began to emerge from political and health circles, more people began to make some tentative holiday plans.
"In the last few days as speculation has been mounting we’ve seen the inquiries coming in," said Clare Dunne, managing director of The Travel Broker. "It’s not ‘booking busy’ yet, as we say, but it has been ‘inquiry busy’."
Now that the picture around the easing of restrictions is clear, it is expected that those inquiries will begin to convert into actual bookings.
The World Travel & Tourism Council, which represents the travel and tourism businesses around the world, is predicting a strong recovery in the sector this year.
It said that summer bookings were already 80% higher than they were in 2021, while Easter bookings are up 250%.
But what does that mean for the cost of a holiday?
Even with demand ticking up, there still appear to be good deals available.
Part of that is because airlines, hotels and resorts have not yet adjusted their pricing to reflect the sudden upturn in interest.
"The consumers who booked in January got the most amazing deals," said Mr Hackett. "The industry has had a six week gap, from the start of December to mid-January, when everything fell off a cliff."
He said that Aer Lingus and Ryanair had had sales running during this time – while travel agents were also cutting prices – but it’s only been in recent days that demand has materialised for those offers.
"So, from a pricing point of view the value is still there now."
However, he said it was only a matter of time before the players in the market readjust their offerings.
"Those prices will increase as soon as Ryanair and Aer Lingus see significant a uptick in volume," he said. "The closer people leave it to departure, the more expensive it will be – but that’s always the case."
However, even with restrictions easing, the 2022 holiday season is also a very different one to what would be considered normal.
"Anything that people were booking since the restrictions were lifted in July-August 2021 was very close to departure," he said. "They weren’t advanced booking – so what we did not have for 2022 was the normal level of advanced booking from months out. It’s all been ‘book now, travel in the next month’."
All of that means that there are still deals to be had for people who are willing and able to move quickly enough.
However, as the weeks wear on – and people get closer to their desired travel dates – expect to see prices ramp up quickly.
That is particularly true when it comes to the peak season between June and August.
"There are bargains but if you’re looking for peak times, if everybody is looking for the same thing, it’s going to be expensive," said Ms Dunne. "If you’re willing to go off-peak, if you don’t want to go to the same place that everybody else is going to, you’ll get a bargain."
Another factor that will put upward pressure on prices is a reduced amount of availability compared to pre-Covid years.
Earlier this week, Ryanair announced its biggest ever flight schedule from Dublin Airport, which will see it fly more planes to more destinations than it would have done in 2019.
However Ryanair will remain below pre-Covid levels at other airports, while other airlines are also likely to stick to a smaller schedule in the coming months.
That has led Ryanair boss Eddie Wilson to predict that airfares across Europe would be on an upward trajectory in the months ahead.
Couple that with the fact that many will be booking their first proper holiday in three summers – having set aside their holiday fund since 2020– and budget-conscious consumers may also find themselves competing with more deep-pocketed holidaymakers than usual.
"Money isn’t the issue at the moment – not to say that people are throwing money away, they’re not – but it’s not the main issue," said Ms Dunne. "We’ve certainly had people who go for the sea-view room or balcony, where as before they might have gone for an inside cabin or the normal room.
"People feel they’ve had a hard time, and let’s enjoy a holiday – we deserve it!"
The good news, though, is that there doesn’t appear to be much constraint on capacity once people get passed whatever aviation bottleneck that might exist.
"The choice is absolutely back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of the resorts and destinations," Mr Hackett said. "Everything has reopened – Europe started travelling from the 1st July last year, so in real terms everything had sufficient volume [since then]."
Inflation once again
As people will know all to well, the cost of almost everything is rising – in the case of fuel, that rise has been staggering. And if airlines have to pay more for fuel, that cost inevitably gets passed on to consumers.
Rising consumer prices isn’t confined to Ireland, either, with the rest of the EU, the UK and the US also seeing a dramatic spike in inflation.
In the countries that use the euro; the cost of food, alcohol and tobacco rose by 3.2% last year – while services were 2.4% more expensive.
That ultimately ends up on the consumer’s plate, and means that holiday-makers will likely face higher prices even when get to their eventual destination.