The holidays at home boom is over, tourism bosses have said, blaming “staycation fatigue” for a slump in bookings at even the most popular UK destinations.
But with the restrictions now lifted, British tourists are heading abroad in huge numbers thanks to pent-up demand for travel to foreign climes among “catch-up consumers”.
Even the prospect of airport delays and flight cancellations has not put people off going abroad, leaving visitor numbers to UK destinations falling below pre-pandemic levels.
Travel agents are reporting a marked increase in the popularity of package holidays, while domestic firms said they still have vacancies for this month.
All parts of the travel sector, however, are worried that the full impact of the cost of living crisis is yet to come, with many people having booked holidays before they started feeling the squeeze.
Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said: “We are nowhere near last year’s numbers. Last year, we had more customers than we could cope with, to be honest. But now we are back to having to try to attract visitors.
“Some places have got five or 10 per cent vacancies, whereas normally in August if people were looking for a last-minute booking there would be nothing.
“There has been a bit of staycation fatigue after the last couple of years when people had no choice but to stay in Britain. Now people are deciding to go abroad or they are waiting to go abroad once they know if they can afford it.”
Mr Bell said May and June had been quieter than expected, while the summer was slightly below pre-pandemic levels. There are concerns that autumn bookings, traditionally the preserve of retirees, would be weak. “It is a strong course correction after the past two years,” he added.
The picture is the same in the Lake District, where Cumbria Tourism said 55 per cent of holiday businesses report bookings being down on an average year.
Norfolk and Suffolk had waiting lists for cottages this time last year, but now have vacancies. In Devon, demand is reported to be “well below normal”.
As a result, prices for holidays in the UK have fallen, with cost-conscious tourists refusing to pay the sort of inflated prices operators were able to charge last year.
Mr Bell said: “Last year, people would just phone up and book and pay the rate. This year, they are asking about the cost before they go any further.”
He said last-minute cancellations were becoming common as people decided they could no longer afford a holiday, adding: “The difference in the cost of their energy bills between this year and last year is the cost of a holiday.”
According to Abta, which represents travel agents, bookings for foreign holidays are close to pre-pandemic levels, even though the industry was far more severely affected by Covid than the domestic holiday trade.
Pre-departure testing for people leaving the UK was only scrapped in mid-March, and some countries retained Covid restrictions after that. But pent-up demand for foreign breaks has shown in the number of people going abroad this summer.
Young people, in particular, are desperate to make up for lost time and have been described as “catch-up consumers” by travel bosses.
Many are turning to package holidays because they want the safety net of being able to change their holiday plans with one phone call if they catch Covid or if there is a problem at the destination.
Airbnb has also reported record profits thanks in part to the return of foreign breaks, with a 58 per cent increase in revenue for the second quarter of this year compared with the same period last year.
Mark Tanzer, the chief executive of Abta, said: “Since the start of the year, the steady removal of travel restrictions in the UK and around the world has made it much easier to travel and unleashed a lot of pent-up demand for overseas breaks.
“Abta members have seen strong bookings for this year and next, and our own research also shows appetite for travel is closing in on 2019 levels.”