Britons take abroad view

Spain is still the favourite holiday destination for UK consumers, but France – helped by the Channel Tunnel effect – is growing in popularity and could soon overtake its neighbour.

Figures from market research company BMRB collected over the past 25 years show that the number of Britons holidaying in Spain has almost doubled since 1973 – from 2.3 million to 4.4 million – but the figures for France have increased faster, rocketing from 1.2 million to 2.7 million. Greece, Cyprus, the US and Africa have seen even greater rates of growth, from 300 per cent for Greece and Cyprus to 700 per cent for Africa.

Italy has witnessed the least growth over 25 years, with 900,000 UK holidaymakers in 1973 and 1 million last year. The figures this year are likely to show an increase due to the Millennium Effect – or, as the Italians call it, the Jubilee. Authorities throughout Italy are expecting an invasion of Christian holidaymakers seeking out the holy sites, not just in Rome but across the country.

BMRB points out that it is not just sheer numbers of holidaymakers that matters, but also the socio-economic breakdown of them. France, for example, has seen large increases in AB visitors, while the growth in other groups has not been so pronounced. For more affluent families who might previously have gone to Florida, the double lure of the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris seems to be irresistible.

The Disneyland effect has played a major part in driving up the numbers of Britons taking holidays across the Atlantic. Again, the biggest increase has been in the AB social groups.

Holidaymakers in the C2 and D brackets took significantly less holidays in 1998 than in 1973, while those in the AB, C1 and E brackets took more. BMRB believes that this is indicative of the widening gap between rich and poor which took place during these years. And the matter of wealthier retired people – who come within the E classification – going abroad.

The past 25 years has seen a greater proportion of the British population qualify for inclusion in the AB classification. Even so, BMRB suggests that taking holidays is still a class issue, with length of time and destination varying widely across the socio-economic groupings.

There has been a decline in young people who go on holiday, with those aged 15 to 24 dropping from 5.2 million in 1973 to 3.9 million in 1998. BMRB believes this can be attributed, at least in part, to more young people going on to university or other higher education, and so no longer being able to take holidays due to a lack of time or financial constraints.

The number of adults who take at least one holiday a year – either in the UK or abroad – has increased from 26.6 million in 1973 to 29 million last year, while the average number of holidays taken by each adult has gone up from 1.45 to 1.6.

Growth in the number of people taking holidays has been relatively low over the past 25 years, but BMRB figures show a dramatic increase in Britons going abroad – up from 6.2 million in 1973 to 16.6 million in 1998. Package holidays have been a factor driving this growth, with 5.5 million people buying a package holiday abroad in 1973 compared with 10.5 million in 1998.

BMRB believes that the increasing popularity of package holidays can be attributed to a change in emphasis among holiday companies, away from a concentration on mass market – and perhaps even downmarket – products towards a portfolio including holidays which cater to all price brackets and socio-economic groupings.

Non-package holidays abroad have seen an even greater increase, up from 700,000 people in 1973 to 6.1 million in 1998. The multiplication of cheaper flights from companies such as easyJet, Debonair and Go can only lead to further growth.

In terms of the length of holidays taken, it is impossible to produce exact comparisons between 1973 data and 1998 data, because the wording of the relevant questions has changed (from number of days spent abroad on holiday to number of nights spent abroad), but the general trend has been towards longer holidays.

In 1998, 2.3 million of the 47.56 million holidays taken during the year lasted 21 nights or longer, while 3.7 million were of between one and three nights.

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