Figures soar for Brits abroad

The British are travelling abroad for their holidays in record numbers. Last year they made 32 million leisure trips overseas.

While the total number of holidays taken by UK consumers fell slightly from 1997’s all-time peak of 97.5 million to an estimated 97 million, this was a result of extremely poor domestic weather – which in turn could well have driven growth in overseas holidays.

According to new data from Mintel, expenditure on holidays by the British came to 22.5bn in 1998, representing a four per cent share of all consumer spending. However, this ratio has not increased during the Nineties, despite the higher profile now given to holidays.

The breakdown between domestic and foreign holidays shows the British spend 10bn on holidays in their own country, at an average spend of 155 per trip. By comparison, we spend an average outlay of 390 per trip on our holidays abroad, for a total spend of 12.5bn in 1998.

Mintel says the low average spend per domestic trip reflects the growing trend in UK holidays towards taking short breaks, with long holidays more likely to be taken abroad by those who can afford them. The proportion of domestic holidays which are in the one-to-three nights category is up from 50 per cent to 52 per cent since 1994, and for most people, short breaks in the UK now complement full-length holidays (four or more nights) abroad.

Domestic tourism has adapted to this trend, and resorts, hotels, holiday parks and even self-catering markets (for example, country cottages) are geared up to cater for shorter stays. Indoor sports and entertainment can now be found in most types of accommodation.

Companies involved in UK domestic tourism have had to learn to operate within strict commercial limits, because consumers are reserving lavish spending for holidays abroad, and want to keep domestic holiday costs to a minimum. For British consumers taking a holiday in the UK, independent travel by road is the dominant mode, although the fall in the share taken by public transport has bottomed out in the Nineties (with flying on the increase).

A wide variety of accommodation is used for domestic holidays, but with the emphasis on the cheapest options: camping, staying with friends or relatives and self-catering properties.

London and other major cities tend to be avoided, with most holidays being taken on the coast, particularly the West Country.

As expected, income and education play a major part in shaping consumer choice of holidays, but there is also a clear link between the sort of holiday taken and life-stage.

Young adults are increasingly attracted to budget holidays offering clubbing nightlife, or sporting and other active, themed holidays. Those educated to university level are the most adventurous of independent explorers.

Families with small children tend not to travel far, irrespective of income levels, and prefer a domestic holiday, usually self-catering. Families with older children and teenagers are most likely to opt for packaged holidays abroad which offer entertainment (such as theme parks), physical freedom (for example, camping) and wide choice (such as holiday complexes).

Empty nesters, and mature consumers generally, will often take a large number of annual holidays and breaks, with the more affluent in the market opting for long-haul and expensive holidays, although a proportion of the retired are also content to stay at home or choose familiar coach tours.

In terms of the type of holiday taken by UK consumers when they travel abroad, the package holiday or inclusive tour is at the core of the leisure travel industry’s business. According to TGI, the proportion of adults who say their main annual holiday is a tour abroad has risen from 21.4 per cent in 1990 to 23 per cent in 1998.

Growth in independently organised holiday travel has been faster than package business over the long term, but the inclusive/independent split is now fairly even.

Late Nineties recovery for packages has come from renewed demand for Spain and Florida, and the generally buoyant mass-market demand for holidays favours growth for inclusive tours.

Transport factors play a large part in determining types of holiday. For example, the rise of car ownership is the dominant factor in domestic tourism, contributing to trends such as short breaks, the development of roadside lodges and restaurants, and exploration of more distant parts of Britain.

But the transport story of the decade has to be the opening of the Channel Tunnel, which has been encouraging far more short trips to France, particularly by car.

Disneyland Paris has also proved very popular on this route, while 1998 had the extra boost of the World Cup.

Air travel’s share of holidays abroad has levelled off at about 70 per cent, but this could start to rise again with the growth of low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, encouraging independent holidays and short breaks to the Continent.

In terms of where we are going when we venture abroad, the two main destinations remain France and Spain, which share a combined total of about 50 per cent of holidays abroad. France is essentially an independent destination, while most trips to Spain are on package holidays.

The US retains third place as the most popular overseas destination for the British. The market is dominated by package holidays to Florida with its theme parks and resorts.

While long-haul holidays as a whole are increasing – from 3.9 million in 1994 to 5.5 million in 1998 – the other top ten destinations for UK holidaymakers are all European – Greece, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Cyprus, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.

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