Simon Calder: Feelgood factor is as fleeting as a cloud of confetti

The man who pays his way

Sunshine, celebration and an apparent end to the recession: the eternal optimists in the travel industry will seize upon every fragment of good news to detect the first blossom of a successful summer. Certainly, inbound tourism businesses from hoteliers to souvenir sellers will relish the priceless publicity that accommpanied the royal wedding. Other world cities – New York, Shanghai, and Paris (wherever that is) will envy the altar-to-balcony media coverage that London has enjoyed this week. But for outbound package-holiday companies, whose main summer season begins this weekend, the feelgood factor seems to be as fleeting as a cloud of confetti.

The past year has brought all manner of travel traumas. A volcanic eruption in Iceland closed airspace over much of northern Europe. Holiday firms collapsed in the middle of last summer. Then there was the Yuletide snow shutdown at Heathrow, followed by Foreign Office warnings against travel to a miscellany of tourist destinations, and strikes by workers unhappy with their pay or workload.

So you might imagine that wise travellers will play safe by buying a package holiday rather than constructing a do-it-yourself itinerary online. Book a flight-plus-accommodation deal in a single transaction from a reputable operator, and you transfer the burden of risk to the holiday company. When you are grounded at Gatwick, or discover the resort hotel has yet to be finished, the tour operator is obliged to look after you. So the summer should look rosy for the likes of Thomson, Thomas Cook and their smaller rivals.

But the evidence from the market intelligence specialists GfK Ascent suggests the package holiday market is as drowsy as an American air-traffic controller. The number of bookings last month fell 15 per cent, year- on-year. Sales appear to have fallen off the same travel cliff whose recent victims include sterling (after trawling London bureaux de change this week the best I got was €1.10 for each puny pound).

The "gold standard" of a fortnight on a beach has slumped, with many families trimming three or four days from the usual 14-night holiday to keep it affordable. The financial certainty of an all-inclusive holiday is proving tempting: all-you-can-eat-and-drink packages now account for 36 per cent of summer bookings, up from 31 per cent in 2010.

The promiscuous nature of the British holidaymaker is evident from dramatic swings in preferred destinations. You would expect Egypt and Tunisia to cede ground after the political unrest earlier this year, against a tragic background of terrorist attacks on tourists at destinations across North Africa.

Yet the biggest loser this year has been Turkey. After years of strong growth, which took it to second place behind the perennial favourite, Spain, Turkey has fallen to third – overtaken by Greece – despite the strife that began a year ago, and which continues tomorrow with a nationwide port and rail strike.

The prevailing air fares this weekend show that Spain is seen as our safe haven, reflecting a public need for both meteorological and political stability. Monday afternoon's easyJet flight from Malaga to Gatwick has been selling at £445, one way. That is a scary sixpence for every second you spend in the sky.

In contrast, you can fly out from the Sussex airport on Monday morning for a week on a Thomson package to the Greek island of Thassos, including transfers and a hotel room, with breakfast. The price, from a test booking I made on Thursday: £270, and that's for a couple. Less than £20 per person, per day, for a fine May escape. Get travelling.

A report destined for the ash tray?

"The particles of explosive ash that reached Europe in the jet stream were especially sharp and abrasive over their entire size range." That analysis by Danish and Icelandic scientists, as published this week by the US National Academy of Sciences, is bound to be seized upon by the aviation authorities who closed northern Europe's skies a year ago after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. They warned that windshields could be "sandblasted" and engines would have seized up had they been allowed to take off.

Yet, as one of the millions of travellers whose journeys were wrecked by the wholesale grounding of flights, I don't share the researchers' certainty. An exclusion zone around an erupting volcano is eminently sensible, but there are limits. I can't quite see how any particle big enough to shut down an engine could be carried hundreds of miles from Iceland to Britain.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'