Sunshine hols vanish in last minute rush

A sudden rise in the number of people seeking a last-minute escape from Britain's disappointing summer weather has made it virtually impossible to get a cheap deal to many of Europe's top resorts.

A sudden rise in the number of people seeking a last-minute escape from Britain's disappointing summer weather has made it virtually impossible to get a cheap deal to many of Europe's top resorts.

With meteorologists predicting that we may miss out altogether on a decent dose of summer sun this year, industry insiders have reported a rise of up to 300 per cent in demand for package holidays abroad.

Bargain bookings to resorts on mainland Spain, which account for around 45 per cent of the British package holiday market, as well as Cyprus, Portugal and France, are particularly hard to come by.

Even those willing to book their trip via the internet are being forced to accept second-rate resorts and flights at unsociable hours. The cheapest deal Lastminute.com could come up with was a week's stay in Corfu for £299, with the outgoing flight departing in the middle of the night.

A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said: "Many of our members said there wasn't a lot around, with mainland Spain and Cyprus the hardest places to get cheap deals to.

"One said that demand had gone up by 300 per cent over the last couple of weeks. Before the appalling weather there was greater than average availability, but not any more."

Roger Flowers, a commercial manager at Thomas Cook, said the Euro 2000 football championships and a late Easter had also delayed the usual mid-summer rush for last-minute deals, but that it had now got underway.

He said: "A month ago, there was absolutely tons on the market but now the market has really picked up and prices have hardened as a result.

"Prices for Spain are higher than most because that is where demand is greatest. But if you really want to go there, you should be able to make a booking, but you won't necessarily get the cheapest prices now. There has been a steady progression over the last 10 years or so of people leaving the booking of their holiday to the last minute. But it is still the case that you are more likely to get what you want for a cheaper price if you book well in advance."

The best bargains around tend to be for eastern Mediterranean destinations, such as Greece and Turkey. But even these have seen a rise in price over the past couple of weeks.

Jeremy Skidmore, editor of the holiday trade newspaper Travel Weekly, said: "A week in Greece is now typically £229, whereas a week ago it would have been around £169.

"If you want to go to Spain or Portugal you have to be willing to pay brochure prices. A week's self-catering in Spain, for example, is going to cost you between £350 to £400. But if you go into the travel agent with the attitude that you just want to get away to somewhere sunny and by the sea, but you're not too fussy about where, then you should still be able to find a good deal."

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