Holidaymakers are ignoring environmentalists' calls to limit their air travel and are taking more "indulgent" long-haul mini-breaks than ever before.
Despite recommendations that they holiday closer to home, the number of Britons flying thousands of miles to spend less than a week in far-flung destinations was 3.7 million last year, according to a survey by Halifax.
The travel insurer is predicting that the number of what it has dubbed "breakneck breaks" will increase by more than a third this year, and expects 4.9 million British tourists to travel in 2008 to destinations including Hong Kong, New York, and Rio de Janeiro for just a few days.
Those holidays involve flights of at least seven hours and include increasing numbers of travellers taking advantage of the weak dollar for shopping weekends in the US, the most popular destination for that type of mini-break.
The Far East was the second-most popular destination, followed by the Indian subcontinent. Biggest takers of breakneck breaks last year were those living in South-east England, while those in Wales and South-west England were least likely to go off on such a trip.
The opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 by the Queen this Friday, and the prospect of cheaper routes to the US when the "open skies" deal comes into force later this month, are likely only to increase the growing popularity of long-haul holidays of less than a week.
From the end of March, any US or European carrier will be free to operate flights between Heathrow and the US. It is expected that by the time "open skies" comes into force, the airport, Europe's busiest, will operate more than 500 more flights a month than the same time last year. Many of those flights will carry passengers who think a long weekend in "nearby" destinations such as Paris or Rome is not exciting enough, the Halifax research concluded. "It's the cliché of cash-rich, time-poor," said Tim Murray-Walker, marketing manager at Journey Latin America. "It's fantastic going back to work and saying you've just been to Buenos Aires or Rio. It's pretty flash compared with your mates who have just been to Seville."
However, Friends of the Earth was quick to criticise what it believes is an "indulgent" trend. Its aviation campaigner, Richard Dyer, said: "These kinds of habits are going in exactly the wrong direction from what we need."
Those enjoying far-flung mini-breaks cited the rising levels of comfort and entertainment commonly available on long-haul flights as added incentives for flying thousands of miles for such short stays. Exotic locations for stag and hen parties were another factor, while some said they were forced into trips of just a few days as bosses banned them from carrying over annual leave days to the following year.
Paul Birkhead, a senior manager at Halifax, said: "Better airline quality, the lure of winter sun, favourable exchange rates, and cheaper long-haul flights have created a boom in demand for long-haul mini-breaks, with millions of us enduring long flights for a weekend break on the other side of the globe."
Long-haul short breaks accounted for more than 5.5 billion air miles last year. That is expected to grow to 7.4 billion this year, the equivalent of flying 250,000 times around the globe.
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