Travel: Passport to Travel; Florida This Summer for the First Time in Six Years, as Bookings Soar Because of the Sinking Dollar. Nicholson Fears British Demand for Holidays in the Sunshine State Could Eventually Exceed Supply. and Staff -a Keen Incentive to Deliver High Standards. the 2004 AITO Directory, Listing All Member Firms, Is Available Free on 0870 751 8080 or WWW.Aito.Co.UK

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With bookings for summer 2004 packages so far behind target that operators are drastically slashing capacity, Britain's leading flight-only operator is allowing travellers to mix chartered and scheduled flights in the same holiday.

Avro, part of the Monarch Travel Group, claims to be a market leader in its sector by selling over a million charter flights each year from 12 UK airports to 24 mainstream Mediterranean sunshine destinations in Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, the Balearics, Rhodes and Crete.

However, Spain and Greece are taking the brunt of this year's slump. Latest figures from market analysts ACNielsen show bookings for Spain down 26 per cent on last year, with Greece down 22 per cent. The weakness of the pound against the euro is a key factor.

So Avro is unveiling a new website -with access to fares from 70 scheduled airlines too.

It's for travellers who reckon they can put together better value packages by themselves -perhaps by borrowing holiday homes from relatives or friends.

To provide the accommodation part of a DIY package, Avro has linked with Hotel Connect, its own established site Somewhere to Stay, and Apartments Abroad.

It is also reinstating charter flights to While Britain's tour giants struggle with falling bookings, the minnows of the industry -smaller firms carrying anything from a few thousand travellers a year -remain quietly confident.

Martin Garland, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), reckons prospects will be boosted if the pound continues to claw back value against the euro.

With more than 150 member companies covering everything from family camping in France to tall-ship cruising in the South Pacific, AITO prices are rarely the cheapest for the 1.5 million travellers carried each year.

In fact, Quality Villas, a new AITO member this year, lists some of the grandest self-catering properties in France. A villa sleeping 12 in St Jean Cap Ferrat on the Cote d'Azur costs pounds 47,990 per week in peak season. But AITO members boast personal service and expertise which the number-crunching travel giants rarely match.

In 90 per cent of AITO firms, more than half are majority-owned by directors, familiesFor decades, it was the holiday that appealed mostly to cranky eccentrics, intellectuals, religious groups and older folk who didn't fancy the idea of undressing on a beach.

But walking, both in the UK and abroad, is in such demand it has triggered a travel takeover: Ramblers Holidays, specialising in oneand two-week holidays in Britain, has acquired Countrywide Holidays, which offers mainly short breaks.

The reason for the move is that short-break walking holidays are booming among 20to 30-year-olds -helped, perhaps, by the fashionable gear you get for outdoor adventures.

Most walking holidays, however, still sell to people over 45. …