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Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Where will Britain go on its holidays?

TurkeyPolandSouth AfricaIcelandBritainSpain

The first fortnight of January is a key period for the travel industry as many of us battle our winter blues by booking our summer hols.

But this year's process will be complicated not just by the credit crunch but also by the pound plunging in value against the euro. The cost of living in traditional holiday destinations like Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus, Greece is rising for those who buy their euros with pounds.

So to which far-flung coasts will British holidaymakers take their buckets and spades in these straitened times?


Turkey is the hot tip in the travel industry for 2009. Yet to join the EU and so firmly outside the Eurozone, it has been singled out by increasing numbers of Britons as a reasonably priced destination.

It has been steadily building up its tourist industry in recent years on the back of a wide variety of beach resorts, and a diverse array of Ottoman, Byzantine, classical Roman, Greek and older architecture and ruins.

Columns at Izmir (formerly Smyrna)
Low prices, numerous beach resorts and spectacular ruins

In the region of two millions trips were made by British tourists to Turkey in 2008. ABTA, the Travel Association, found visitor numbers had risen 32% in the past 12 months. This trend is predicted to continue in 2009, and Turkey will be sure to take trade from Greece, its nearest Eurozone rival for the British tourist pound.

The other big near eastern winner is likely to be Egypt, which saw British visitor numbers rise 38% in 2008. Morocco and Tunisia are also expecting to make hay from the strong euro.

Of course there are pitfalls for the British tourists flooding to these locations. The Foreign Office warns travellers to acquaint themselves with local laws and customs before arriving. Issues such as toplessness on beaches can be dealt with very differently.


Conventional beach holidays aren't the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a place like Poland.

Two Polish women on trial for indecent exposure
As even natives have learnt to their cost, going topless is frowned upon

And yet there are resorts on the country's Baltic coast which will be receiving a dusting of British tourists for the first time this year. Recent years have seen budget airlines push the growth of weekend breaks, or stag trips, to historic cities inland.

But Germans and Poles have been enjoying their summer hols in resorts on the Pomeranian coast for many years, and now they will be joined by Eurozone-averse Britons. It may not be as hot as Santorini or Malaga but it still boasts the classic mix of sun, sand and sea. And with British visitors probably having had some contact with Polish people in recent years, there will be some recognition of the culture and language at least.

Again, Britons must be aware of the cultural differences. In October, two Polish women were prosecuted for indecent exposure for sunbathing topless in Szczecin. Poland remains both Catholic and conservative and the kind of alcohol-fuelled boisterousness that characterises many British visits to the Mediterranean will be frowned on.

Another location backed for an influx of Britons is Bulgaria.

Montenegro beach
Montenegro is not in the EU, but does have the euro

"Bulgaria has the coastal resorts - once beloved of Soviet leaders - on the Black Sea," says Sarah Miller, editor of Conde Nast Traveller.

"The real trend is for the 'far near'. Places that are close by - either they are beyond the iron curtain or they didn't crop up on your radar."

Elsewhere behind the former iron curtain, Romania and Slovakia may have a good year, and Miller suggests Bohemia in the Czech Republic will be one of the places discovered by roving Britons. "It has very low living costs, extraordinary spa town hotels," she says.


Turkey has the advantage of its lira being at pretty much the same rate against sterling as it was a year ago, but there are other destinations where you can also avoid transaction panic.

The South African rand is also not much different than it was a year ago against the pound. The Norwegian krone is not dramatically higher against the pound either, despite recent strong gains, notes Simon Calder, travel editor for the Independent newspaper. Where it once was dramatically more expensive than most of the rest of northern Europe, now it is much closer to the same cost of living.


Some British savers may feel a certain degree of antipathy towards Iceland and vice versa. But the land as famous to Britons for the extreme price of a pint of beer as it was for the Blue Lagoon has become more affordable.

Its currency has plunged against the pound from an average of about 126 kronur to the pound in January 2008 to 182 in December.


Although the pound has also performed poorly against the dollar, recently falling to a low of $1.43, that is not to say that a holiday to the US is necessarily uneconomic.

Las Vegas
Some resorts will be slashing prices

"Las Vegas is looking [cheaper] because the Americans aren't travelling," says Calder.

And there is some suggestion that the recent US election has boosted British interest in holidaying there.

"There's plenty of places to explore here," says Miller. "If you want a big city break, America is a hell of a lot more popular now Obama has got in."


If you want sun, sea, sand and even a sight of Spain, without having to change your money into euros, why not consider Gibraltar, suggests Calder. The Gibraltar pound is pegged to Sterling at a 1:1 rate.

Or for those who want somewhere a bit closer to home but still with nicer weather than the British mainland, the Isle of Man might appeal. The climate's good enough to grow palm trees a la Cornwall.


One place where your pound should get as much as usual is Britain.

The mechanical spider crossing Liverpool
After its Capital of Culture year, Liverpool is riding high

Big domestic tourist locations like the West Country and Lake District hope to have a big year as Europeans are lured by the weak pound, and many British sunseekers face facts and holiday at home for the first time in many years.

A trip to the Gower Peninsula or Edinburgh can be achieved with a relatively short travel time and without a dramatic increase to your carbon footprint.

And VisitEngland expects the economic situation to boost the idea of northern city breaks over summer, recommending people try the Manchester International Festival in July, Birmingham for a shopping holiday, surfing around the artificial reef in Bournemouth or sampling Bath's Georgian heritage.

The comfort of the familiar

Of course, for many people, the current economic situation will be no bar to the annual trip to Espana.

About 12 million holiday visits are made from the UK to Spain each year, dwarfing Turkey and Egypt combined, and it is silly to assume that that will be ravaged by a weak pound.

"Despite what's happened with the euro, Spain the traditional favourite isn't as badly valued as you might expect," says Lee Hayhurst, news editor of Travel Trade Gazette. "They are reducing prices to reflect the fact it's costing us more. Spain is so massive as a tourist destination, and somewhere people trust and know."

The big tour operators will be hoping that economic uncertainty derails the trend of recent years for people to organise their own holidays instead of packages.

"Possibly that is one good thing for the industry," says Hayhurst. "The strong euro might make people pay for it all upfront."

And if people are spending money at all, they might be conservative about their choice of destination, instead of heading for an unfamiliar Baltic or Bulgarian beach.

"If people are are being wary about what they are spending their money on, they might think twice about going somewhere they don't feel the infrastructure is right."


As well as those who have already ruled out the idea of a holiday in these turbulent times, there will be others hoping to take advantage of prices falling along with demand. The travel industry is putting out the message that it is slashing capacity later in the year, and therefore the best deals are around now, but there are some who don't think that's the whole story.

"I'm doing what a lot of people are doing. Not booking anything, waiting and seeing what happens. They can only slash capacity on package holidays," says Calder.

Miller concurs, noting: "All the intelligence is that people aren't booking anything at the moment."

But of course there will be some who will ignore the companies sliding into administration and book now, simply because they need something to cheer them up.

"They have had a couple of days back at work. It is horrible. They want something to look forward to," says Calder.

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