Tom Hall: We may travel less, but the news isn't all bad

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'Do you get to travel much?" That's the first thing anyone who works in the travel industry is usually asked. The honest answer is "Not as much as you might think". Based on the ONS Travel Trends report for 2009, anyone offering this myth-busting comment would at least find themselves in good company.

There are many sobering stories for travel firms, airlines and hotel companies here, not least of which is the headline number: 10.4 million fewer overseas trips were made by Brits in 2009 than in 2008. This isn't just a continuation of the decline in travel seen in 2007 and 2008; it represents a pretty hefty deceleration.

The big losers are business travellers. Last year was not a good one to inflate frequent flyer accounts. 2009 saw one in four fewer work trips overseas than in the previous year.

But the fact that there are fewer of these mileage eaters in the skies doesn't just mean belts are being tightened by British companies. It means everyone from airlines to hotels and car hire firms are losing out.

Holiday firms won't be sitting pretty either, despite bigger companies seeing the decline coming and adjusting how many holidays they had on sale, keeping selling prices up. Fifteen per cent fewer holidays abroad in 2009 means that travellers ditching euro-pricey Spain and Greece for Turkey and Egypt are only part of the picture. Many decided to holiday in Britain, or not at all. Hotly-tipped Mexico lost an entire season to the swine flu scare.

The UK, at least, enjoyed a stronger year. Half a million more tourists visited in 2009 than in the previous 12 months. The report doesn't cover our holidays at home but domestic breaks continue to grow in popularity. Last year the travel business seemed so surprised by the explosion of interest in British holidays that it invented an irritating neologism – the "staycation". This year Britain's success is more of an accepted fact.

The annual summer rush, starting now, should keep the travel industry from moping, and even banish concerns about what has bedevilled travellers in 2010: clouds of ash, striking cabin crew and street protests in popular destinations such as Thailand. A weaker euro and excellent deals this summer offer plenty to tempt those who still haven't booked. Those reading today's report with furrowed brows will be hoping many are tempted, and fast.

The writer is travel editor at Lonely Planet

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