2009: The year of the staycation

Britons choose to stay at home rather than head for the sun as economic downturn takes its toll

The Great Easter exodus is no more as families hit by the economic downturn shun their usual breaks in the Mediterranean to spend the holiday at home with the odd day trip.

This year 60 per cent of Britons, or 37 million people, are planning to stay put, giving rise to the phenomenon of so-called "staycations". That works out as double the amount of staycationers as last year. A survey, conducted by the RAC, cited less money, rising fuel costs and the anticipation of bad weather as reasons behind the trend.

Experts also point to saving money for a bigger holiday later in the year. Simon Calder, the travel editor of The Independent, expected the big break summer break to survive in 2009. "Overseas offers are thriving and many people are prepared to sacrifice many things but holidays are rarely one of them," he said.

Often misused, the term staycation refers to the trend of ditching foreign travel and using home as a base for day trips and short breaks. Another survey has found that three in five people were changing their holiday plans from last year to a staycation. The survey of 4,000 adults, by the insurance firm Legal & General, also suggested a further 21 per cent planned to stay with friends and relatives, rather than face the expense of a hotel booking.

About a fifth of those who holidayed abroad last year said they intended to stay within the UK for 2009, with a further 18 per cent saying they would not be able to afford a holiday at all this year because of the recession.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) believes 2 million people will travel abroad for the Easter weekend this year, which is a drop of more than 500,000 from 2007, before the economic downturn. "People still intend to take a holiday, but are not prepared to commit as early as before particularly with job insecurity and the current state of the economy," said Frances Tuke, a spokeswoman for Abta. "The luxury of an Easter escape is far less likely, with many choosing instead to take one big holiday later in the year."

Sterling's weakness is also believed to be contributing to the reluctance to travel abroad with the prospect of travelling to eurozone countries more expensive than a few years ago. But for UK tourism, which contributes £114bn every year to Britain's economy, or nearly 8 per cent of its GDP, the news will be a pleasant surprise. The Great British staycation results in the double effect of British citizens staying at home, and Europeans coming to the UK to exploit the weak pound.

"We need to continue to push the premise of value-for-money and convince people that the Great British Escape can be just as compelling as the sun, sea and sand premise that the British population have traditionally been attracted to," said Elliott Frisby, a spokesman for Visit Britain, which has recent launched a marketing campaign pushing Britain as a value-for-money proposition. "It's also worth remembering that countries that are not in the euro such as Turkey, Morocco and Egypt are still a competitive overseas alternative and we can't be complacent of that."