Trouble involved in weighing up getting away for a break

Schools are closed, the morning rush is quieter, but are holidaymakers off to the usual hotspots this summer? Sheena Hastings reports.

YOU may be longing to stretch out on a sunny beach yet that heat-quenching beer you’re also dreaming of might well cost you more than £5 if your sunshine getaway is the French Riviera. In these cash-strapped times, and with new research showing that one in four Brits can’t afford a holiday at the moment, how are those who are able to travel making the most of their money, and how are they deciding on their destination, when some of the most popular holiday haunts are in countries that have been beset by problems in recent times?

When weighing up where to go we consider cost, of course, but also such factors as distance (90-plus per cent of Brits who fly take short-haul flights), and naturally the weather. Car hire is cheapest in Florida and unleaded petrol is cheapest in Luxembourg, followed closely by Spain and Switzerland. Diesel is cheapest in Norway and the UK. Is that enough of an incentive to swing your vote away from Tunisia or Greece and worries, niggling but unfounded, that the ATM might not work or a riot might break out on the beach?

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The weak pound will have a huge impact on most people’s holidays, especially in Europe, and the days are long gone when you’d see 1.5 euros for your £1. Currency specialists say sterling will be lying low for at least another year, but there are holiday destinations where the currency has moved in UK travellers’ favour. These include the Egyptian pound and the Turkish lira.

Travel experts reckon that traditional destinations have had to up their game in the face of economic crisis, aware that British holidaymakers could stay away in droves in the face of the unfavourable exchange rate. Where British holidaymakers were possibly taken for granted before, the hospitality industry in the eurozone is now having to work harder to convince us that it offers value.

“Looking at bookings across the board, Egypt, Turkey and Greece have felt an impact on their holiday bookings due to their recent troubles, with bookings to Egypt and Turkey down 20-25 per cent,” says Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). “People saw images of demonstrations and riots on the television in major cities like Cairo, but in reality the city is an eight-hour drive from Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, where there tourism carries on as usual. But it’s all about perception.

“Greece’s bookings from the UK are actually slightly up on last year, but the growth is down to two per cent from eight per cent between 2009 and 2010, after the images of riots and reports of the country’s economic crisis hit the headlines and TV news. These sorts of things do put some people off, it’s true, but often a period like this is a good time to go to one of those countries, because there are good deals and you will find a very warm welcome and very cheap prices when you get there.”

Spain, despite its economic woes, has experienced a 10 per cent growth in bookings from British holidaymakers this year, says Mr Tipton. When in doubt, perhaps we simply to stick to the familiar?

“It may be that, according to the Post Office Holiday Barometer, Spain is the cheapest destination in the euro/North Africa zone. The Spanish economy is in a poor state, but we haven’t seen images of streets full of rioters. People feel they know what they’ll get in Spain, even if the exchange rate is not good.

“Business is being helped by two things: one is that many tour operators are now offering all-inclusive deals, and around 50 per cent of all holidays being booked are on this basis. People arrive knowing their accommodation, food and drink are taken care of, so holiday cash is less of a worry.

“Also, because the Spanish themselves are short of money and not going out much, restaurants, bars and cafes are lowering their prices to be competitive. In Magaluf in Mallorca I recently found it easy to get a pint for 1.5 euros.”

Janie and Duncan McGarr from East Yorkshire often holiday in Spain, but have just returned from a week in Hammamet, Tunisia, with their student sons. “I didn’t know what to expect, but everything has quietened down and people in the resort seemed very pleased to see us,” says Janie. “It was an all-inclusive deal at an incredible price, booked one month beforehand. We wanted to flop and read, and the boys did watersports. It was ideal and all we spent in a week was around £200.

“We wouldn’t take big risks, but countries that have had problems need people to stick with them while they try to get back to normal.”