Foreign travel bookings up as Britons tire of the staycation

If holidays are anything to go by, consumer confidence seems to be growing

Staycationing may be an inelegant description, but it was music to the ears of Britain's beleaguered tourism industry, heralding, as it did, a chorus of ringing cash tills. For the past three years, seaside towns and B&Bs across the country have enjoyed an unexpected revival as cash-strapped Britons shunned their usual foreign holidays.

But no sooner has it been granted a place in the Oxford English Dictionary, than the US-devised marketing buzzword looks set to become a thing of the past: British holidaymakers look set to return to the skies.

Dreary British weather, greater economic confidence and falls in package-holiday prices are contributing to a resurgence in foreign travel. In the first three months of 2011, the number of Britons travelling abroad jumped by 4 per cent to 13.5 million, according to the Office for National Statistics, while flight bookings across every sector are up for the first time this year.

TripAdvisor's survey of 6,295 travellers saw just 38 per cent planning a stay-at-home holiday in 2011, compared with 45 per cent last year.

Short-haul bookings are up 12 per cent, medium-haul up 4 per cent and long-haul up 2 per cent, according to the research industry analyst GfK Ascent. "People are ready to book to go abroad, but are opting for the security of a package," says its managing director, Sarah Smalley.

And, unlike the boom years when long-haul destinations became an almost standard choice, holidaymakers are now opting for short-haul destinations.

Bookings to France are up by 31 per cent on last year, followed closely by Italy (15 per cent) and Spain (11 per cent), according to the Co-operative Travel Group, as holidaymakers return to more traditional hotspots.

"In 2009 and 2010, most holidaymakers were wary of a recession and a dramatic drop in sterling, as well as uncertainty about the future," said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for Abta, which represents more than 1,000 travel agents and tour operators. "That has changed. People are now beginning to realise that they've missed out, while struggling countries in the eurozone are dropping their prices, eager to attract business again."

Industry insiders believe this summer's bookings are indicative of a "renewed confidence" among consumers.

Sandra Monks, 48, last went abroad with her children in 2008. "For the past two years we have stayed in the UK, with family in Wales, Cheshire and Manchester. Now, after two cautious years, we are set for a holiday in Greece in July, for which accommodation and flights are about £1,500."

As the appetite for foreign travel picks up, package holidays could be set to benefit. Approximately 20,000 more package holidays have already been sold, in the first week of the season for summer 2012, compared with the same period last year, GfK Ascent says, with holidays to the United States experiencing a 16 per cent increase in bookings. Three perennially popular US destinations: New York City, Las Vegas and Florida are all strong favourites for next year.

But campaigners have warned that the environmental concerns of foreign travel are at risk of being forgotten. According to Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Richard Dyer: "The attractions of cheap air travel are obvious – but future generations will be left to pick up the bill.

"Governments must do more to tackle the huge impact aviation has on climate change. The coalition should keep its promise to bring in a new 'per plane' tax to encourage airlines to operate more efficiently."

Meanwhile, political uncertainty and the Arab Spring spells bad news for Egypt, which was one of the most popular holiday destinations for 2010. Bookings are down by 30 per cent, while Tunisia has dropped 16 per cent.

"Ironically, these are some of the cheapest package holidays in the market and they are unlikely to reap the benefit of the British holidaymakers' return," said Mr Tipton.

Case studies...

Short haul

Mike Utton, 51, an event manager from Leicestershire, is off to Barcelona with his family in July

"For the last two years, holidays have been very difficult to plan because I did not want to leave my business at such a vulnerable time.

But that's changing. People have got fed up of sitting in the doldrums and being gloomy. My daughter is now 21 and my son 19, and my wife and I realise that this could be the last time we go on holiday as a family.

For the last three years we have stayed at home. The money that we have saved on holidays has been invested in expanding our home comforts, such as decorating the house, installing a new kitchen and restyling the garden.

We last went abroad to South Africa in 2006, just before the crash. In hindsight that seems really decadent – but we had all got used to travelling long haul. This summer we are heading to Barcelona, for a week-long exploration of the city, culture as well as the beach. We did consider other European destinations, including Prague and Austria, but, ultimately, Spain is affordable and allows you to have a fairly luxurious holiday at a good price."

Long haul

Farah Ahmed, 32, a civil servant from London, is visiting Canada in July on a package-tour holiday

"My last foreign holiday was in 2008. Since then I have holidayed mainly in the UK, visiting families and taking short breaks in Northumberland, Sussex, New Forest and Cambridgeshire.

But I'm keen to get out of the country and see new things. Over the past few years I have saved some money and I am ready for a bigger excursion.

In February, I booked a mountain-biking holiday around British Columbia, Mount Washington, Silver Star and Whistler. It should cost around £2,500 in total.

Britain does feel like it has changed, with hotels, cottages, spas and weekend breaks becoming increasingly expensive anyway.

This summer's trip will be a result of careful planning and budgeting. I expect to meet around 15 people out there and pursue one of my lifelong passions."