Frozen Britons rush for the sun

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The recent cold spell has brought a boom in summer holiday bookings with sales for 1997 up 30 per cent on this time last year, travel agents said yesterday.

More than 2.4 million people had made bookings by Christmas compared to 1.8 million the previous year, and the trend is expected to continue.

Lunn Poly, the UK's largest travel agency, said customers suffering from the winter blues had cheered themselves up by booking their place in the sun. Marketing director Peter Povey said: "One of the coldest winters for some time has sent thousands of people rushing to travel agencies to snap up warm, sunny holidays. While Spain is far and away the most popular choice, we're seeing more and more people going further afield."

Thomas Cook said its summer bookings were up by 70 per cent and there had been dramatic growth since December, with a rise in the average amount spent on a holiday. A spokesman said: "As is always the case in the UK, the weather will have a big say and this will ultimately determine our level of performance."

Another of the big operators, Going Places, predicts that January bookings will be 15 per cent up on last year.

But a spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said it was more likely that people had learnt from the lessons of last year when many seeking late bargains encountered limited availability. "I am unconvinced the weather was the real cause of the holiday flurry. It is just as much to do with the fact travel agents are offering tremendous incentives to book early.

"Sales are way ahead of this time last year because the brochures were out earlier than ever before, but the amount of holidays on offer has not actually gone up."