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Consumer Travel: the great Y2K escape

A HOLIDAY over the millennium may cost you anything up to double what you would have paid last year for the same destination and duration. "People are opting for the old favourites," says a Thomson spokesperson. Perennial hot-spots in southern Spain, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, Australia and the United States are likely to see the highest demand.

Spanish millennium weeks with Thomas Cook are twice as expensive as last year, while Airtours' week in Costa Blanca has risen 75 per cent to pounds 529. The Cox and Kings tour of Rajasthan's forts and palaces has risen 50 per cent from pounds 2,000 to pounds 3,000. Some operators, like Club Mark Warner, have capped increases at 20 per cent.

The rush to leave the country for the New Year is unprecedented. According to Airtours research, "83 per cent of people who would not normally travel at this time are considering foreign travel".

In other words, six times as many people as usual are scrambling for a place in the sunrise. Thomson took 15,000 bookings in the month following the first edition of its millennium brochure.

Possibly best value is being offered by overland tour operators who do not depend on hotels. For example, Encounter, whose trips range from the Himalayas to the Amazon, is not increasing prices.

Few operators are issuing more than a legal disclaimer about the Millennium Bug. Most express confidence that airlines will be compliant. At least one views the Y2K scares as "media paranoia".

Tailored trips abound. Cox and Kings recommends a trip to the Inca fortress of Machu Picchu in Peru or a flight over Everest as the millennium dawns. Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee is the centrepiece of the tour of Israel organised by Jasmin (whose prices will rise no more than 10 per cent). Alastair McCabe of Jasmin also vouches for Jordanian hospitality, making it "ideal for a party", even though Ramadan falls at New Year.

Hugh Riddell