Up up and hols away

The Gazette/LEP Travel and Leisure Exhibition was held at Blackpool Airport.'The Jet 2 team. PIC BY ROB LOCK'28-1-2012
The Gazette/LEP Travel and Leisure Exhibition was held at Blackpool Airport.'The Jet 2 team. PIC BY ROB LOCK'28-1-2012
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Five years and rising. Jet2holidays is celebrating its fifth birthday – with a 500 per cent boom in the package holiday market since it started out.

It expects to hit the magic half million customer booking landmark by May.

The soaraway figures – from 34,000 passengers in its first year to more than 200,000 last year – come at a time when many tour operators, even the most historic, are struggling.

Summer holiday bookings have more than doubled at Blackpool Airport – for the coming season. A new sales office opened on site last year. The local team also took part in The Gazette’s recent Travel and Leisure Exhibition. Ian Doubtfire, managing director of parent company Jet2.com, says it’s a testimony of faith in the airport’s future, potential for more passenger growth, and an expanding catchment area across Lancashire, Lakeland and into Scotland.

The airport is already Jet2.com’s leading centre for group bookings – Jet2.com was second only to Virgin Atlantic in last year’s Group Travel Best Airline awards.

So what’s the secret? Good old-fashioned Northern “nous” says Zoe Towers, product manager for Jet2holidays, northerner by “adoption”.

She adds: “I’m from Northampton but love the North. I worked for MyTravel in Rochdale for a long time and then with Thomas Cook. I joined Jet2holidays three years ago in April. I’ve seen it go from strength to strength. It’s great to be working for a travel company still expanding but which believes in doing things steadily and when it’s right to do it rather than over reach.

“We’re made up of people who have worked with a lot of the big brands, and have a northern tour operator heritage, as well as online experience. It’s a fusion which means we’re not quite traditional tour operator and not quite online operator but the best of all worlds.”

Jet2.com has eight northern bases, Leeds Bradford covering most routes (41), Manchester (35) and Newcastle (27). Blackpool, the smallest airport (but the oldest civil airport in the land) may serve only eight routes but the volume on each and every one has exceeded Jet2.com’s expectations.

Mr Doubfire adds: “We carry 200,000 passengers a year from Blackpool. We’re here for the long term. The package market has come back because people want to know how much it all costs.”

Zoe points out: “Blackpool is one of our top bases. It’s one of the cornerstones of the package holiday market revival. The strandings caused by the ash cloud figure because people want the peace of mind that comes with being looked after by a tour operator.

“We’re not in their face in every resort pushing pricey excursions but a phone call away from being at their side when needed.

“Our sales for this coming summer have more than doubled at Blackpool. We may not need to have the eight aircraft we have based at Leeds but Blackpool’s volumes are extremely high – I would not have dreamed Blackpool would so well in my old MyTravel days.

“People are maximising the value of their summer holidays and mixing it up a lot more – package hols, city breaks, flights only, indulgent breaks, family holidays, the works.

“We’re now working on summer 2013, sticking with what we know, what we do best, what people like but tweaking the format.

“There’s a trend towards more short city breaks. Given the current market we build on what we’ve already got, maintain it, identify opportunities, and wait for the economic situation to change before we add lots of things. That said, we’ve added more five star luxury offerings, beach hotels and grown our family packages too, in response to trends.

“The Spanish market is still number one. Majorca is tops for our airports, including Blackpool, but we also offer city breaks in Palma City and Malaga City and Alicante.

“Blackpool passengers look for great value and all inclusive and half board. They don’t like self catering. I think that has something to do with the nature of Blackpool itself. We work closely with our hoteliers. There’s no point giving clients great customer experience, best seats, great luggage allowance, good flight times, lovely staff on Jet2.com and letting them down at the other end. Hotels must replicate it.

“Spain had a real wake up call when other markets started to boom. They looked at what was happening and knew they had to drive standards up. Spain’s struggling with its domestic market so it’s important Brits keep the faith. Blackpool is sticking with Spain. Majorca and the Costa Blanca do well. But a real benefit for Jet2holidays this year is the new Tenerife route.”

The package policy pays off in public recognition too with Jet2holidays named Best Tour Operator (Iberian Peninsula/ Islands) at the British Travel Awards and Best Mainstream Short Haul Operator last year. Jet2.com is also Britain’s favourite low cost airline for Holiday Which?

Steve Heapy, managing director of Jet2holidays, says: “We are bucking the industry trend in the current climate, with sustained growth and record January bookings, in contrast to the market which is reportedly seven per cent down on last year. Add to that our growth plans and we look forward to a record year and a bright future serving the people of Blackpool with great value package holidays.”

n Blackpool has eight dedicated Jet2 routes: Tenerife, Alicante, Majorca, Murcia, Malaga, Faro, Jersey and Belfast but serves other routes too.

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk