Spotlight Travel

Travel agents remain the most important channel for both information and booking – but they need to improve their performance in the developing long-haul market.

Exclusive research by NOP shows that the market for holidays, both domestic and foreign, is thriving.

Four out of ten UK adults took a holiday away from home – not including staying with friends or relatives – during July and August this year. Nineteen per cent took a short break (a holiday of six nights or less), and 27 per cent took a longer holiday. In the latter category, four-fifths were enjoying the traditional break of seven to fourteen nights, while the remainder stayed away for more than a fortnight.

The vast majority of short breaks this summer – about eight out of ten – were spent within the UK. Three-quarters of UK holiday-makers travelled in England, with the remainder divided equally between Scotland and Wales. France was the only other country to attract as many as one in ten short-break holiday-makers, with runner-up Holland visited by five per cent of travellers.

When NOP looked at longer holidays, however, the picture changed dramatically. Although the UK was still the single biggest destination, attracting 40 per cent of holiday-makers, 56 per cent went to Europe. Long-haul holidays to North America, the Far East or Australia were far fewer, comprising only 14 per cent.

The traditional resort holiday, where the major attraction is sunshine and the beach, is losing ground to a wider range of destinations within Europe. A quarter of holiday-makers this summer chose Spain, Cyprus and the Balearic and Canary Islands, while three out of ten visited other European countries. Spain is still the most popular single country for summer holidays, singled out by 11 per cent of holiday-makers, but its dominance is being eroded – both France and Greece are catching up fast, drawing nine per cent and eight per cent respectively. The US is the only significant long-haul destination, accounting for five per cent of holiday-makers.

There are marked demographic differences between people who took their main holiday in the UK, and those going to other countries. Although upmarket ABC1 households make up 45 per cent of the adult population, they comprised only a third of UK holiday-makers – compared with 47 per cent for Spain, 58 per cent for Greece and 78 per cent for France.

The difference in age is equally striking. Less than three out of ten people holidaying in the UK were under 35, compared with half for Greece and Spain, and almost as many – 43 per cent – for France.

Sources of information

Brochures are by far the most widely used source of information for holidays. Almost two-thirds of travellers consulted brochures before choosing their holiday this year. They were the only source which had equal influence across all consumer segmentations and types of holiday.

Personal experience – either one’s own or other people’s – is a major factor in the market. Forty-seven per cent of holiday-makers had taken a personal recommendation by a friend or relative, rising to 54 per cent for people travelling to non-resort Europe. Four out of ten tourists returned to a place or even a specific hotel that they had visited before.

The pronounced influence of the travel trade may also be attributed to the importance of the ” personal” touch. Almost half of all holiday-makers overall, and three-quarters of those going to “resort” Europe, had consulted a travel agent, probably to help them choose package deals, operators and resorts.

Just under a fifth of holiday-makers had received information or drawn impressions from TV programmes, rising to a quarter for “resort” Europe. National or regional tourist boards were less useful, and were consulted by only 15 per cent.

Turning to the commercial media, print ads are the dominant form, perhaps because the market is full of small operators for whom this is an affordable medium. Twenty-seven per cent of all tourists found their holiday in a newspaper advertisement, rising to a third of long-haul holiday-makers. Seventeen per cent used magazine advertisements, while only 13 per cent said they had been influenced by a TV commercial.

Electronic media are almost as important as traditional advertising formats. While about a fifth of all holiday-makers had consulted Teletext, foreign holiday-makers found it particularly relevant, with 31 per cent of travellers to “resort” Europe and a third of long-haul travellers using it.

Fifteen per cent had used the Internet, rising to 20 per cent of travellers to non-resort Europe and 27 per cent of people taking long-haul holidays.

Booking a holiday

Travel agents, besides being a major source of information, are also the main channel for bookings, being used by 42 per cent of holiday-makers. Although 44 per cent booked directly with the hotel or accommodation they were using, the majority of direct bookings were for the UK or accommodation-only holidays. Twenty-five per cent of holiday-makers booked directly with a package tour operator – about a third of everyone taking an inclusive package holiday.

Direct sales by tour operators are strongest in long-haul holidays, with four out of ten travellers booking with their package tour operator. Although long-haul holidays make up the smallest sector of the market, they are among the most expensive – so travel agents should try to attract more long-haul holiday-makers if they are not to miss out on a major area of revenue.

Satisfaction with holidays

Two-thirds of holiday-makers reported being “very satisfied” with their last holiday, and nearly three out of ten were “quite satisfied”. Because the level is so high, it is difficult to pick out particularly successful sectors – but almost nine out of ten travellers to North America and three-quarters of other long-haul holiday-makers were very happy, compared with six out of ten UK travellers.

As long as the economy prospers, foreign holidays, particularly to more unusual and exotic destinations, will continue to attract UK tourists.

Main Findings

  • 56 per cent of British holiday-makers went to Europe for their main holiday, 14 per cent went long haul
  • 63 per cent consulted a brochure
  • 47 per cent used a travel agent for information
  • 44 per cent booked through an agent
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