A million Britons forget grey skies and join last-minute rush to book a place in the sun

A new kind of holiday rush is under way this weekend - not the usual bumper-to-bumper queue for the coast, but a nationwide scramble to travel agents' windows, Teletext, and web pages for last-minute holidays abroad as the July rain beats down in Britain.

Roads yesterday were relatively quiet, but the gloomy high summer is prompting a record surge in bookings for holidays overseas with more than a million Britons expected to book one in the next few weeks. More than 26 million Britons are expected to go abroad this summer.

Bargain prices are reinforcing the trend of recent years for making eleventh-hour plans, rather than booking everything in February. And, experts say, consumers pay by credit card, close their eyes to the cost, and take off.

Sean Tipton, spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said: "Because of the bad weather forecast for Britain we are looking at up to a million more people going on holiday in the next weeks. It's definitely going to be a record year.

"Our philosophy in Britain is very much: let's stick it on the plastic. Whatever hard times we may be going through, a hot holiday is often a priority."

The rush of last-minute bookings began this weekend, with many bargains on offer. Sales for Thomson, Britain's largest tour operator are up 20 per cent from this time last year. A spokesperson said: "Many people delayed going away because of the football European Championships."

Travel related websites have also had record numbers of hits in June and July. Brent Hoberman, the founder of lastminute.com says: "More people are booking their holidays last minute. The bad weather is obviously a factor this summer, but people are also just more confident that they will get the best deals by leaving it until late."

After the hot period of May and early June, the country has seen mainly grey skies with July so far notable for its record lows rather than the highs of last year.

For last-minute bookers in search of the sun, Spain remains the most popular destination. Eight million of us will head there this summer.

Mr Tipton says, however, "The value of the euro against the pound means that it has not had a great year. Many of the hotels out there seem in danger of over-pricing themselves out of the market."

Destinations such as Turkey and Bulgaria offer better value for money. "Turkey really has been the biggest success story of recent years," Mr Tipton says. "It has gone from having around 100,000 visitors a year to over a million."

THE PAYNES IN SPAIN

Family: Donna, 40, a teacher's assistant; Dave, 43, a customer services manager; Danielle, 12, Tom, 10, and Lauren, eight; and Barbara, the children's grandmother

From: Bristol

Previous holidays: Gran Canaria, last summer

Destination: Costa Blanca, Spain

Spending money budget: £400 Accommodation: £400 per week apartment that sleeps 6, with pool

Cost of journey: £780 (flights plus transfers)

Typical meal out: £30 for six

Typical day out: £25 (family ticket to water park)

Family's estimate of total cost: £1,580

Total cost per person: £263

THE CHISHAMS IN CORNWALL

Family: Dawn, 33, a housewife; James, 36, an engineer; Mathilda, 6, and Noah, 3

From: Felpham, West Sussex

Previous holidays: Have always gone to Cornwall, but thinking of going on a trip to Australia later in the year

Destination: Daymer Bay, Cornwall

Spending money budget: £500

Accommodation: £800 per week self-catering cottage

Cost of journey: £60 petrol there and back

Typical meal out: £50 for four

Typical day out: £30 (Eden Project family ticket)

Family's estimate of total cost: £1,360

Total cost per person: £340

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