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Don't leave it late if you want to bag any kind of bargain trip to the sun

But the Irish are a resilient bunch -- and even Michael Noonan and co can't stop us from taking a well-deserved holiday.

And deals are there to be had for sun worshippers -- if they can afford to dig into their pockets in the coming weeks.

The message from tour operators and travel agents is to book early to bag a bargain. You might feel that they would say that, but the stats back up their warnings.

Seats to the sun are down roughly three-quarters on the peak of 2007, so there's less chance of getting the selection, or even the price, you want if you book closer to the summer.

The Celtic Tiger days of three or four breaks a year are a distant memory, and the traditional bucket-and-spade favourites emphasising value are back in vogue.

"The hot places for 2013 from our perspective are Portugal, Majorca and Lanzarote," said Clem Walshe, of lowcost holidays.ie, adding that the likes of Salou and other mainland Spain areas will also be popular.

"The reasons are easy accessibility with the tour operator charters or low-cost airlines and plenty of accommodation any day of the week."


Echoing the views of many others in the industry, he added that all-inclusive (meals and drinks included in the holiday price) is growing in popularity.

And prices are keen -- especially in the shoulder season before or after the summer peak. "Our lead-in price is €178 per person sharing for a week in Portugal in May."

Even the dreaded Budget hasn't hit trade as much as might have been feared.

"We're seeing a lot of hits on our website -- as many as in October (pre-Budget) and we can see a lot of people are doing their research already.

Another recession-busting area is cruising, and prices are keenly priced among the big competitors of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and MSC, with some lines introducing all-in drinks packages in 2013 to help keep costs down.

The biggest emerging sector of cruising is river cruising, with the likes of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises now an emerging force in the Irish market.

Pat Dawson, chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association, believes that holidaymakers should be thinking of booking early with low deposits -- many operators are offering free child places and discounts.

"The number of charter seats out of Ireland is down to 220,00 from a high of 1.3 million in 2007," he points out, so late bargains are harder to come by, given the lack of space on flights.

"Turkey is well up in bookings as there's a good number of seats," he says, adding: "All-inclusive is also becoming more popular as families know that their food and drink is taken care of, and they only have to spend a small amount when away."


He says demand is good and "the shocking bad weather" has made the sun-drenched brochures look all the more attractive. And he says that while he's a fan of home holidays, "The Gathering means that prices could rise in hotels here, given supply and demand".

"Dublin is an expensive city -- pints are a fiver and look at restaurants, where wine is outrageous at €30. Go to Spain and you'll get a great bottle of wine for €12." So while the mood is confident in the outbound market, will the world come here and boost our empty State coffers?

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, told the Herald that the signs are good.

He said: "Our torch-lit parade in Dublin on New Year's has seen half of the people pre-registering for the event coming from abroad."

While conceding that drink and food are still issues, he adds that "accommodation is good value and hotels.com has Dublin as the third cheapest place for hotel rooms in Western Europe".