Austria's out, Dubai's in – how your favourite holiday destinations have changed in the last 25 years

Oliver Smith
Back in the mid-Nineties, fewer than 40,000 of us went to the UAE. Now it is almost one million - Nikada

It’s easy to take for granted just how affordable travel has become. We can fly to Europe for as little as £10 (so long as you’re willing to pack light), or to New York for less than £150, while back in the Fifties a one-way ticket across the Atlantic with TWA could cost in excess of £5,000 in today’s money.

Even as recently as the early Eighties airfares from London to New York were three or four times more expensive than they currently are, making regular holidays a luxury for the few.

This fact is illustrated by ONS data. Since 1961, the International Passenger Survey has collected information about those leaving and entering the UK to produce a snapshot of how many Britons are travelling abroad each year– and where they are going.

In 1979, when the UK population was around 56 million (11 million less than now), only 15.47m outbound trips were recorded – that’s just one journey abroad for every 3.6 residents. Fast forward to 2018 and the number of trips has soared to 71.7 million; more than one trip for every person. We’ve never had it so good.

The boom can be traced back to the early Nineties, when air travel deregulation paved the way for the likes of Ryanair and easyJet to offer cheap flights to a wealth of cities, from Aarhus to Zagreb. Annual overseas trips reached 41.3m by 1995, 53.9m by 1999, and 66.4m by 2005, before the financial crisis temporarily put the upward trajectory on hold. After 2012, we enjoyed five consecutive years of growth – until 2018 saw a small dip in trips, most likely a result of Brexit uncertainty. 

Which is our favourite destination?

Back in the Nineties, France held the honour. More than 9.5m Britons crossed the Channel in 1995, the earliest year for which Telegraph Travel could procure comprehensive statistics; this rose to 11.9m in 1999.

But soon after the turn of the century Spain stole its crown. It welcomed 8.2m UK travellers in 1995, 10.4m in 1999 – and 13.8m in 2005. In 2018 the figure was a whopping 15.6m. Spain reigns supreme.

Italy has also risen up the rankings. It was our seventh favourite option in 1995; now it is third. Portugal is up three places (ninth to sixth); India two (17th to 15th).

There are five new entries. The lofty rankings now held by Poland (ninth) and Romania (13th) are partly due to immigrants from those countries returning to visit friends and family. Poland joined the EU in 2004 and Romania in 2007.

But the rise of the UAE (now 16th), Mexico (18th) and China (20th) can be explained by their growing popularity as holiday destinations. The vast majority of the 836,000 Britons who visited the UAE, of course, went to Dubai. Back in the mid-Nineties, fewer than 40,000 of us went to the UAE.

Iceland, while not one of our 20 favourite destinations, has seen a similarly stratospheric rise – from around 15,000 UK travellers in 1995 to around 300,000 in 2018. Visits to Denmark, New Zealand and Finland have doubled in the last two decades.

Only a handful of destinations have witnessed a fall in UK visitors since the Nineties. They include Egypt and Tunisia - largely due to security concerns - as well as Austria and France.

For the most part, however, it’s a case of plus ça change. The top 10 in 1995 contained Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, the US, Germany, Portugal, Greece and the Netherlands. It still does.

The death of the “booze cruise” – and rise of the mini-break

The average length of an overseas trip has decreased slightly, from 11 days to nine, according to ONS data, which suggests a rise in the number of shorter breaks, particularly to European cities. Indeed, back in 1995 two-week holidays were almost as common as one-week breaks. Now seven-night holidays are three times more popular, and we are taking far more shorter trips, lasting two to four nights, than ever before.

Day trips, which accounted for two million annual sojourns in the mid-Nineties, have all but disappeared. The “booze cruise” is no more, driven to extinction by the end of duty-free sales within the EU, the rising cost of fuel, and the falling value of the pound.

The slow demise of the business traveller

Of the 21.6m overseas breaks taken in 1985, 3.2m were classed as business trips - around 15 per cent. In 1999 there were 8.2m business trips out of 53.9m; again, around 15 per cent.

But that proportion has been falling ever since. In 2018, 6.58m of our 71.7m journeys abroad were for work – just nine per cent. Simply put, the internet has made it is possible to do international business, and conduct meetings and conferences, without jumping on a plane.

The all-inclusive lives on

The old-fashioned all-inclusive holiday was in decline a few years ago. They accounted for around 54 per cent of all holidays taken in 1999, but by 2010 that had fallen to 39 per cent. That slide appears to have stopped, however. Around 18.17m all-inclusives were taken by Britons last year, out of 47.04m holidays – 38.6 per cent. Despite the collapse of Thomas Cook suggesting otherwise, there is still clearly widespread demand for all-inclusive breaks. 

Are you well travelled? If you've visited one of these countries, you're doing OK

Half the fun of globetrotting is telling all and sundry about your adventures. But for undisputed bragging rights, you’ll need to find somewhere nobody else has been.

So not Spain, France or Italy. Nor Slovakia, which welcomed 186,000 Britons last year, Sri Lanka (149,000), Japan (140,000) or Brazil (102,000).

Our top 100, meanwhile, contains Indonesia, Andorra, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Oman, Peru and Iran. Lesser-visited, certainly, but still firmly on the beaten track.

The following nations, however, should really impress. Barely any Britons call in on these places each year – just 2,000 or fewer make one of these nations the focus of their holiday each year, says ONS (which equates to only 0.003 per cent of us).

Malawi

What are we missing?

Lake Malawi is the main reason to visit Malawi. Partly because of its sheer size. It is 350 miles long from its northern to its southern tip. This measurement makes it the ninth largest lake in the world, and the third largest and second deepest in Africa (eclipsed by Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika). It is, according to Unesco, home to more species of fish than any other lake on the planet, including some 700 types of cichlid - the little, colourful, befinned creatures which flicker and flutter in its shallows. A beautiful, evocative place, in other words. Livingstone described it as a "Lake of Stars", referring to the thousands of fishing boats which drift across its surface at night, the lanterns on their prows visible from shore.

Kazakhstan

What are we missing?

Kazakhstan is the proud owner of a futuristic capital, Astana, and some immense countryside, including the nation’s answer to the Grand Canyon, in the form of the Charyn Canyon. There is also skiing at Shymbulak ski resort, 30 minutes from Almaty, while the hidden Lake Kaindy in the Tien Shan Mountains is a startling sight to behold.

Astana Credit: getty

Armenia

What are we missing?

The Armenian capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed as it was 29 years before Rome. Overlooked by the snow-capped Mount Ararat, it is known as the “Pink City”, thanks to the rosy volcanic rock that was used to construct many of its buildings.

The country is also a twitchers delight, home as it is to 345 of Europe's estimated 530 bird species. Highlights include falcons, swans and eagles, which also feature on the Armenian coat of arms.

Yerevan Credit: getty

Botswana

What are we missing?

Chobe National Park is one of the best places in Africa to see leopards, lions and cheetahs. Their bountiful numbers are down to Botswana’s admirable conservation policies, which have made the country one of the best safari destinations in Africa.

Botswana is one of Africa's top safari destinations Credit: getty

Uzbekistan

What are we missing?

If you’re intrigued by the ancient Silk Road but don’t have the time to travel its length from China to Turkey, you’ll find three of the route’s most important cities in Uzbekistan. Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were key stop-offs for traders, and have all been painstakingly restored to their former glory – think glittering minarets, voluptuous domes and hypnotic mosaics.

Belize

What are we missing?

Following a trip for Telegraph Travel, Nigel Tisdall wrote: “One joy of travelling here is how empty Belize seems. While neighbouring Mexico and Guatemala are famously populous and exuberant, here the roads are quiet, the beaches relaxed, the archaeological sites often blissfully free of crowds.”

The former British colony may feel surprisingly familiar, too. He added: “The Queen’s head still smiles out from the local dollars, and the British Army continues to train in the country’s dense jungles. Belize City, the former capital, has a Victoria Street and a Princess Margaret Drive, along with the odd red postbox and the squat, brick St John’s Cathedral with its marble memorials to earlier visitors felled by yellow fever.”

Belize offers uncrowded paradise Credit: GETTY

Liechtenstein

What are we missing?

This German-speaking sliver between Austria and Switzerland has astounding mountain scenery, apt for hiking, mountain biking and winter sports, and Vaduz Castle, a 12th century fortress. The eponymous capital also has a fine contemporary art gallery – and a postal museum.

Vaduz Castle Credit: Vit Kovalcik - Fotolia

Georgia

What are we missing?

Sat at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, this plucky nation packs a lot in: from snowy mountains to sandy shores, via rolling vineyards, ancient cities and Unesco-listed monasteries. And alongside the Orthodox Christian cathedrals and timewarped villages there’s even a surprising counterculture of gourmet coffee, clubbing and casinos.

One man who knows it better than most is Amos Chapple. The Kiwi photographer, known for his pioneering use of drones, has been a regular visitor for the last seven years. “I first went in 2010 and instantly fell in love with the country,” he told Telegraph Travel last year. “It’s such a beautiful and mysterious place – heaven for photographers – and with much of the Islamic world becoming more dangerous to visit, it feels like Georgia represents one of the last great adventures in travel.”

Vardzia cave, Georgia Credit: ©Alex Reshnya - stock.adobe.com

Azerbaijan

What are we missing?

Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, is often likened to Dubai for its outlandish architecture and appetite for gold. Architectural highlights include the curvaceous Heydar Aliyev Center designed by Zaha Hadid; the mirror-like SOCAR Tower; and the Flame Tower skyscrapers, which represent Azerbaijan’s oil and gas reserves. Baku is also home to Little Venice, a man-made waterway that flows between shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. It has a number of islands, connected by bridges and walkways – but the best way to get around is by gondola.

Mozambique

What are we missing?

“Mozambique is increasingly popular as a beach destination, the 1,430 miles of coastline which shape its mainland dotted with a growing number of modern luxury resorts. But it is in its islands, and in its past, that this damaged but often dramatically beautiful slice of southern Africa shows its soul,” says Telegraph Travel's Chris Leadbeater.

“Ibo is one of these outcrops – a fragment of the Quirimbas archipelago which, like the larger, more famous Ilha de Mocambique further south, was one of the hubs of Portugal’s colonial administration in these warm Indian Ocean waters. Lisbon’s sudden abandonment of its overseas possessions in 1974 left the town which sits on the little isle’s west flank as a ghost of a dead era, its merchants’ houses, churches and whitewashed forts starting to crumble in the salt air. They would continue to fall apart for the next three decades, but are now being reclaimed as artists’ studios, small shops and boutique hotels – of which Ibo Island Lodge is perhaps the most special.”

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