Tourists dream of finding that topical paradise

Holidaymakers are seeking hot news as much as hot weather in 1997, reports Glenda Cooper
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Holidaymakers are no longer content to be tourists, they want to savour a moment of history, judging from the destinations they are picking for their fortnights away. Post-apartheid South Africa and soon- to-be-handed-over Hong Kong could be among the long-haul favourites for 1997.

Others, according to the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), will be Mexico and the Caribbean. The keys to the increasing popularity of holidays in Africa, the Americas and the Far East, says Abta, are the cheapness and rising number of long-haul flights.

But while holidaymakers may be keen to savour the exotic at a reasonable price, they want to do it the easy way. Bookings show that all-inclusive packages and cruises are expanding markets.

"Long-haul destinations are up and are set to increase," said Jackie Gibson of Abta. "The success story of this year was Mexico, where bookings went up 230 per cent. It was helped by the fact that more charter flights started to go there so it became a lot more affordable."

She said Hong Kong was likely to be a favourite next year with the handover of the colony to China. "We expect a lot of publicity for this, which may well inspire people to go to the colony."

But whether it is long-haul or a more conventional location, such as a Mediterranean resort, what growing numbers of holidaymakers want are all-inclusive packages.

Research by market analyst Mintel, which will be published next month, suggests that British holidaymakers believe the all-inclusive package, including food and drink as well as flights and hotel rooms, is more economical.

"After a few years of going on all-inclusive holidays we always look at them first because it saves us money - even though it may be pounds 200 or pounds 300 dearer, at the end of the day you haven't got to spend any money," one couple told Mintel's interviewers.

"The concept of the all-inclusive holiday will become even more popular in 1997," said Ms Gibson. "They offer everything paid for, including activities and food - and some even include alcohol."

Mintel's report says: "Long-haul inclusive holidays have in the past been identified with exotic destinations for the affluent and those with plenty of time on their hands, but this image changed from the late 1980s."

The cruising boom is reflected in the size of the ships now being ordered. According to a survey by Travel and Tourism Intelligence, the average capacity of new cruiseliners is 1,800 passengers.

Mintel's survey shows that the average age of holidaymakers who go on a cruise has gone down to 57 from the mid-60s and cruising is the fastest- growing sector in general. It is also linked to the all-inclusive category where things might look expensive but can make economic sense.

Mintel forecasts that we will pay for between 27 and 30 million holidays abroad annually for the rest of the decade.

Although the number of people who tend to take all their holidays in Britain has dropped by 8 per cent, compared with a corresponding increase in the number of people taking their main holiday abroad, we will still take 32 million holidays in Britain but mainly as short breaks.

However, while long-haul, exotic, activity-based and special-groups types of holiday are growing in importance, the more traditional favourites still enjoy the bulk of British custom. As Ms Gibson put it: "We must not forget that short-haul destinations - Spain and France - still remain numbers one and two."