Bad weather puts paid to the Great British Staycation

Let down by the so-called barbecue summer, huge numbers are making a last-minute break for the sun

Rachel Shields
Sunday 23 August 2009 00:00
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It was supposed to be a barbecue summer: we were supposed to be enjoying the Great British Staycation. Well, after weeks of drizzly picnics on windswept English beaches, of planes flying half full and scant sunburnt Brits on the Costa, it seems the staycation is over. British airlines and tour operators report a huge surge in last-minute holiday bookings.

While the Dragons' Den star Duncan Bannatyne was criticised for holidaying in the South of France last week – just days after filming a television programme advocating staycationing in Britain – he wasn't the only one chilled by the prospect of staying on home soil for the whole summer. Travel experts believe that disappointing July weather has prompted hordes of families to head out of the country, with European destinations proving especially popular.

"All of our members have reported a rise in last-minute bookings, with some people seeing a 30 to 40 per cent increase," Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents said. "This surge has been fed by the bad weather throughout July. And, with a recession in place, we expected a late-breaking market."

Holidaymakers are booking breaks much later than in previous years, with huge numbers of people purchasing flights and holidays just days before departure. The airline Flybe reported that holidaymakers are snapping up flights two or three days before departure, with these last-minute bookings up 12 per cent on last year.

"People are booking and then flying out the next day, which never used to happen," said Barbara Kurau, of tour operator Cosmos. "Bookings have been 50 per cent higher in the past three to four weeks when compared to this time last year. Last year, people booked holidays in February, April or May, but this year they have left it until the summer holidays."

Fears over job security and the economy have resulted in people delaying booking their holiday until the very last minute. They are also sticking to tried and tested destinations.

"It is definitely the mainstream destinations that are popular. Spain stays at number one year after year, and Turkey and Greece are popular," Ms Kurau said.

Flybe also reported that the year's most popular destination is Spain, while research by Hotels.com suggests that cash-strapped Brits are even happy to head to a European destination for super-short breaks. The website reported that searches for one-night "nanobreaks" to Paris were 50 per cent higher this year than last, while searches for holidays in Nice were up 40 per cent, with Berlin and Rome also attracting a lot of interest.

While the current rush of last-minute bookings comes as a relief to travel agents, it follows a year that has seen a substantial drop in bookings.

"For the year as a whole, business is down 10 per cent, but we expect that to have improved by the end of the summer," Mr Tipton said.

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