A new ABTA research report that reviewed the travel habits of UK holidaymakers over the past quarter-century has had findings of particular interest to U.S. travel suppliers and DMOs who sell to the largest overseas source market for U.S. inbound tourism:
- Data from 25 years apart show that the USA is still the favorite long-haul destination of British travelers; and
- Packaged travel is still preferred travel mode of half of all UK holidaymakers—despite the emergence and growth of other types of travel.
While the numbers prepared by ABTA showed that the USA has slipped from its position as the 3rd most popular international holiday destination for Brits from in 1994 to 6th most popular in 2018, there is no other overseas/long-haul destination that is more popular, although Mexico has grown in favor, as have some Caribbean destinations.
ABTA’s analysis of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) air travel figures also showed the diversification of destinations people are visiting. That is, while there is still a strong market for traditional package holiday destinations – almost 25 million visits were made to Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta combined last year, a big increase from just over 13 million in 1994– today’s holidaymakers are branching out and going further afield.
For in instance, UK holidaymaker visits to Mexico in 1994 stood at 18,778 whereas in 2018 visits were up by 3,500 percent to 676,734, that’s more than the number of visits to Malta (559,677).
Repackaging the Package Holiday: Package holidays continue to dominate the overseas UK holiday market, despite the emergence of other types of travel, with half of the holidays2 people take each year being package breaks—a figure that has held steady since 2014. However, the first package holidays of the past are quite different from some of the package breaks people are taking today.
ABTA said that travel companies have responded to holidaymakers’ changing preferences—offering packages that include tailor made trips, tours that take people off the beaten track, adventure holidays, river and ocean cruises, well-being breaks and all-inclusives. Holidaymakers also have the chance to personalize their package – upgrading transfers, choosing their own room and even booking a specific sun lounger.
Interviews with ABTA members revealed that customers now often want to be “the first to visit” a destination or particular resort, whereas, in the 1970s, many people chose a holiday location based on where their friends or family had been.
Similarly, a package holiday was often sold with the promise of a “home-from-home” (like the UK but with better weather), but many UK holidaymakers are now keen to experience the best of the local culture.
Travel experts also highlight that—as people have become more seasoned travelers and the UK restaurant scene offers a wider range of cuisines—trends of the past such as packing tea bags, cereal, cleaning products and tinned food for their holiday abroad (as well as confusing prosciutto for raw bacon), have become a lot less common.
¹ ABTA analyzed the International Passenger Survey (IPS) air travel figures for the purpose of a holiday (excluding visits for Business, Visiting friends or relatives or Miscellaneous) from the ONS from 1994 (the first set of full online data available) to 2018 (the most recent set of figures), with three-year intervals, focusing on 16 of the most popular destinations for UK holidaymakers. Visitor numbers are survey estimates and are subject to sampling errors.
The tables above, ABTA points out, show the approximate number of visits for a holiday made to each destination by air travel in 1994 and 2018. It is worth noting that there are fluctuations of visitor numbers in years between, often in response to external events.
A note about ABTA: Founded in 1950 by 22 travel companies as the Association of British Travel Agents, and has grown to be the largest travel association in the UK. The organization changed its name to ABTA The Travel Association in July 2007. In July 2008, it merged with the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO). ABTA has around 1,200 Members, with a combined annual UK turnover of £38 billion (almost $48 billion).