Holidaymakers are looking out of Europe this summer, with Turkey, Tunisia and even short-stay jaunts across the Atlantic proving more popular.
Turkey has overtaken Greece as the second most popular destination for Thomas Cook holidaymakers as more Britons choose breaks outside the European Union.
The tour operator said 48% of its package holiday bookings for this summer were to non-EU destinations — a 10 percentage point rise on the same period a year ago — as prolonged Brexit uncertainty keeps the focus on the strength of the euro against the pound.
Bookings to Tunisia are also double what they were last year, with the North African country back on the map for UK holidaymakers after the terrorist attacks in 2015.
Spain remains the top destination for summer 2019, with the list of the five leading tourist spots in Thomas Cook’s 2019 UK Holiday Report also including the United States and Cyprus.
As well as being outside the EU, Turkey’s popularity has been driven by its reputation as a value for money location and home to sandy beaches, salt lakes and ancient ruins.
The peace of mind offered by all-inclusive holidays also remains important to Britons in the current economic climate, with 66% of package trips locking in costs on food and drink.
The report identifies a surge in holidaymakers choosing “bite-sized” breaks of less than a week to long-haul destinations such as the United States, Mexico and South Africa.
Savvy travellers are cutting costs on these long-haul short breaks by flying without hold luggage or finding cheaper flight-only deals. The report said that the number of travellers taking a three-night trip to Las Vegas was up 33%, with a 171% jump in popularity for five-nights in Mexico.
New fuel efficient planes such as the Airbus 380 and 787 Dreamliner are helping to push the travel boundaries, leading to a 350% surge in long-haul passengers over ten years.
British holidaymakers heading to Greece this summer have been warned to expect delays at the country’s airports.
Extra passport checks by Greek police are set to mean increased waiting times for Europeans travelling to and from certain destinations, including the UK.
The new security measures have been introduced by Greece under the 2017 Schengen Borders Code regulation, which will eventually be applied by all Schengen member states.
Travellers from non-Schengen countries, including the UK, have been urged to allow extra time to reach their departure gate so that police can carry out additional database checks.
As Britons make more than three million trips to Greece every year, the Foreign Office has recently updated its travel advice to highlight the potential for delays. It said: “You should ensure you arrive at the airport in good time.”
There are 26 countries in the Schengen area, making it the world’s largest visa free zone and allowing nationals from these places to travel free from border checks.
The 2017 directive recommends that member countries enhance their internal security by checking the details of EU citizens travelling from or to a non-Schengen country, including against databases such as Interpol’s list of stolen and lost travel documents.
The UK and Ireland do not participate in the borders and visas aspects of the Schengen agreement and continue to operate border controls with other EU member states.
British citizens can still travel across Europe visa-free for a maximum of 90 days, something that the European Union has said will continue after Brexit. This is based on there being a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens travelling without visas to the UK for short stays.
One impact of Brexit, however, is the need for Britons to ensure their passports are up to date in the case of a no-deal withdrawal from the EU. This means the document will need to be less than 10 years old and have at least six months on it before it expires.
Failure to ensure this will mean not being able to travel to most EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. A passport renewal usually takes three weeks.
A Venice tourist tax is being imposed on day-trippers as the famous Italian city battles to cope with overtourism.
Short-stay visitors to Venice will soon have to pay a “landing tax” of up to 10 euros in a move effectively creating an admission fee for entry to the floating city.
Authorities in Venice are introducing the charge this summer so that the income raised can help with clearing the rubbish left by an estimated 20 million tourists who visit each year.
The Venice tax move comes amid growing concern among Venetians about the impact that day-trippers from the many giant cruise ships moored in the lagoon are having on the city’s character. It is thought that only one visitor in every five stays in Venice overnight.
With the daily throng of tourists in Venice sometimes twice the number of residents, officials in the city have taken other measures in recent months to address overcrowding. This has included limiting entry to St Mark’s Square, such as during the Venetian carnival in February when the historic piazza was closed once the capacity of 23,000 had been reached.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee recently threatened to put the city on its danger list, having expressed “extreme concern” about the impact of tourism on Venice’s historical sites.
But the new tax, which will vary between 3 euros and 10 euros depending on peak times, has drawn criticism from some who say it will turn Venice into a fee-charging museum.
Thailand beach closure
Venice is not alone in facing overtourism, with other Italian cities including Florence expressing interest in adopting similar tax schemes.
Further afield, authorities in Thailand have closed Maya Beach after the location made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach sustained significant environmental damage as a result of visits from as many as 5,000 tourists a day.
And in Peru, the number of permits for visiting the Inca Trail is now limited to 500 a day, with 2,500 available for Machu Picchu.
With just 4% of people making their last journey to an airport by coach, a campaign has been launched to “break the stigma” around this form of travel.
The poor perception of airport coach travel has been blamed for preventing more passengers from using sustainable modes of transport when going to and from an airport.
Research by the independent watchdog Transport Focus said that one third of people believed that coaches were often uncomfortable, dirty or old. More than half described them as infrequent and often delayed by traffic or roadworks.
At a recent summit hosted by Heathrow airport, leaders from the transport industry including coach operators and the Department for Transport pledged to do more to make coach travel more appealing.
Sustainable travel option
Despite strong levels of passenger satisfaction among coach travellers, awareness of this option as a cost effective and reliable way to travel remains desperately low.
The five-point action plan includes the use of technology to boost the visibility of coach journey information, as well as publication of performance data to inform consumer choice.
More work will be done to promote coach travel as a value for money, sustainable option compared with other forms of long-distance travel. The coach industry will step up efforts to challenge current misconceptions, as well as work more closely with airports and airlines.
Coach travel perceptions
The research found that the majority of people travelled by car to the airport the last time they flew, with 35% parking at the airport, 18% being dropped off and 19% getting a taxi. Scheduled coach services accounted for just 4%, compared with 13% taking a train.
Perceptions of coach travel are frequently driven by isolated and long ago experiences, such as one off journeys or school trips and private coach hire.
Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “It’s time to break the stigma around coach travel and to promote this travel option as the savvy consumer choice.”
Aviation minister Liz Sugg added: “It is clear that misconceptions need to be overcome so that coach travel is seen as a genuine alternative to the car.”
A vision of the future for holidaymakers
Augmented reality glasses for use on city tours are the latest example of the immersive technologies helping to enhance the holiday experience.
An alternative to the umbrella-waving tour guide could soon see holidaymakers exploring cities and places of interest with the help of augmented reality glasses.
The specs, which are currently being tested by TUI customers in Palma de Mallorca, enable text, photographs, videos and 3D models to be displayed in front of what the user is looking at. The company said the technology offered holidaymakers “new, more exciting access” to historical facts and stories and took into account many tourists’ desire to explore on their own.
In the Palma trial, users have been able to learn more about an artist whose paintings they are viewing, or see an animation of the famous dragon that is said to have terrorised the city.
Try before you fly
TUI is one of the first travel providers in the world to offer the technology, which builds on recent developments revolutionising the holiday booking experience.
This has included Thomas Cook’s “try before you fly” virtual reality feature, which gives web and store visitors a closer look at destinations or the cabin of one of the company’s planes.
Hotels have been using similar technology to give their website visitors a better view of the rooms they have on offer. And once customers arrive at their destination, interactive maps have been providing an extra layer of information on local points of interest when viewed on a smartphone.
In the airline sector, easyJet is now using augmented reality technology to help customers know if their cabin bag is within the right dimensions before they set off for the airport. The company hopes the feature on its app will reduce unexpected baggage queries on arrival.
The scan provides an on-screen 3D box which when combined with a customer’s smartphone camera sizes the cabin bag and indicates whether it fits within the maximum dimensions.
Travelport’s Cormac Reilly, who helped develop the feature for easyJet, said: “Audiences are increasingly demanding digital solutions which improve their travel experience.”
How overseas holidays boost UK economy
Spending by UK travellers before a foreign trip is now higher than it is at their destination, a report on the impact of overseas tourism reveals.
The old argument that holidaying outside the UK is bad for the nation’s prosperity has been cast into doubt by new research examining the economic value of outbound travel.
According to travel association ABTA, the amount spent by residents before they set off on foreign travels reached £45.7 billion in 2017. This is 36% higher than in 2008 and now exceeds the amount spent by UK travellers in the overseas holiday destinations they visit.
The expenditure includes the cost of air travel and insurance services, as well as airport drinks and snacks, holiday clothes and shoes, and lotions and toiletries.
Once tax revenues, the industry’s direct economic impact and employment are taken into account, the report concludes that the outbound travel sector has an “important, and too often underappreciated, role to play within the UK’s tourism mix”.
The outbound travel sector directly sustains 220,700 full-time equivalent jobs, which ABTA says is higher than the UK’s iron and steel or electrical equipment manufacturing industries. Just as many jobs again are created through the supply chains supporting the industry.
The sector also generated £6.4 billion for the Exchequer in 2017, with the bulk of this coming from indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty.
The overall economic contribution to the UK totalled £37.1 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2017, amounting to around 1.8% of UK GDP and growth of 36% since 2014.
No tourism deficit
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Too often the contribution of the UK outbound travel industry is overlooked in favour of a myth that overseas travel creates a ‘tourism deficit’ with money going overseas which could be spent in the UK.
“The evidence is clear that this is not the case — the benefits of the outbound sector are being felt by the wider economy in terms of jobs, support for other businesses and tax contributions to the Treasury.
“In order to continue to grow and thrive, government needs to make sure the right tax and policy framework is in place.”
Stricter rules on travel ESTA permits for entry to the United States mean Britons heading across the Atlantic could be barred from boarding.
Passengers are being urged not to be caught out by a change in the fast-track scheme that allows tourists entry into the United States.
Authorities have revealed that last minute applications under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will no longer be accepted, with a minimum three days required before the departure date.
Failure to adhere to this time limit could mean those who have booked late travel deals or forgotten to fill in their online application will be unable to travel. While the rules have always advised applying 72 hours in advance, it has often been the case that travellers have been able to file applications as late as at the airport.
Visa Waiver Programme
Around 3.8 million Britons visit the United States every year, with tourists and certain types of business travellers able to use ESTA under the country’s Visa Waiver Programme.
Applying for and securing an ESTA, which costs US$14 and allows trips lasting up to 90 days, is a separate process to providing an airline with advance passenger information.
A note from US Customs and Border Protection on the ESTA application website advises travellers of the stricter time limit. It said: “Apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before departing for the United States.
“Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding.”
US travel insurance
US-bound travellers also need to think carefully about their travel and medical insurance before they set off. They need to remember that policies including the US tend to be more expensive due to the cost of healthcare in the country.
Recent examples from the Association of British Insurers include a £233,000 medical bill for 15 days in hospital following a stroke and £185,000 for a 10-day hospital stay to treat a blood clot.
Passengers at Heathrow will be able to use facial recognition biometrics to streamline their journey through the airport this summer.
The world’s largest deployment of biometrically-enabled products is set to transform the Heathrow passenger experience by speeding up the check-in, bag drop and boarding process.
The £50 million project to use facial recognition biometric services should reduce the average journey time through the airport by up to a third. It will also significantly cut the amount of paper used when flying.
Currently, manual authentication means that passengers need to present different forms of ID, such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers as well as passports. Facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks and offer increased security.
Reduced boarding times
Research by airline industry body IATA shows that 64% of passengers would choose to share their biometric data if it meant a better travelling experience.
This summer’s trial project at Heathrow is being replicated at a number of other major airports around the world, including Changi airport in Singapore. At the world’s busiest airport — Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson — Delta Airlines has just opened the first-ever dedicated biometric terminal.
When the new technology went online in October, Delta said less than 2% of customers opted out of the process. The airline estimates it saves an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.
Heathrow already uses facial recognition at UK border control through the use of biometric e-gates. By extending the technology to more points in the passenger journey, there’s the potential to allow for greater personalisation of services, which could be useful for passengers requiring additional assistance.
Customer relations and service director Jonathan Coen said: “With this technology we’ll be able to offer passengers choice on how they travel through our airport, with colleagues on hand to guide passengers that require it.
“Biometric technology has been well received by our passengers so far.”
Helping consumers to understand insurance is no easy task, which is why the industry has created a series of animations tailored for social media.
With the task of buying insurance generally regarded as a chore by consumers, the industry has devised an eye-catching social media travel campaign aimed at getting its message across on the importance of getting the right cover.
The Insurance Experiments — a stand-alone website promoted on Facebook — uses animations lasting barely 20 seconds that feature a cast of scientist characters finding out more about insurance.
The initiative has already delivered three million online impressions and brought thousands of people to the website by focusing on property, motor and small business insurance. Now it has been extended to cover travel insurance.
The travel pages cover issues such as the disclosure of medical conditions, the need to have adventurous activities covered correctly, and some of the many ways that travel insurance can come to the rescue of the consumer.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is behind the project, although there’s little sign of its branding or logo on the pages of Insurance Experiments. The animations appear in Facebook feeds and face competition for our attention, which is why they look very different to the usual ABI materials.
Charlie Campbell, the ABI’s senior policy adviser for travel insurance: “Our new Insurance Experiments are designed to encourage consumers to spend just a little longer thinking about the cover that they buy for their trips away.”
Correct travel cover
The travel insurance industry paid claims worth £385 million in 2017, the highest since the ash cloud disruption of 2010. While insurers pay the equivalent of a claim every minute, there remain concerns that customers do not always consider all of their needs before buying a policy.
This is highlighted by travel group Abta’s current campaign targeting the 2.5 million British adults who have been on winter sports holidays without checking they have appropriate insurance. Many wrongly assume they are automatically covered for winter sports as part of their cover, putting them at risk of costly medical bills if they have an accident.
The ABI’s Campbell added: “It’s important to not only look at the cost of the policy but to ensure it accurately reflects your personal circumstances, and takes account of where you’ll be going and what you’re likely to be doing.”
The travel trends expected to shape holiday choices in 2019 have been revealed by Abta, alongside its “12 destinations to watch”.
Responsible tourism is set to be a key factor in holiday bookings in 2019 as consumers pay closer attention to the sustainability credentials of tour operators and the trips they offer.
Other travel trends for the year ahead — revealed in industry body Abta’s annual list — include the resurgence of the “trusted expert” who is able to meet demand for personal and tailored travel advice.
The influential report, which is based on market information and consumer insights, also suggests that people remain committed to taking holidays despite the ongoing political and economic uncertainty.
Rise of wellness travel
According to the report, two-fifths of people cited sustainability as important when booking a holiday, a sharp increase from 24% in 2014.
There’s now much greater awareness of plastics and tourism’s impact on local communities, prompting many companies to announce plans to make holidays more sustainable in the long term.
Abta highlights the rise of wellness travel, with this market growing twice as fast as general tourism as people look to alleviate stress and boost wellbeing.
There’s also a focus on services-based technology to make the lives of travellers easier. Examples include airport luggage drop-off services, facial recognition technology replacing passports and suncream booths.
12 destinations to watch
With 46% of people likely to visit a country they’ve never been to before in 2019, Abta’s 12 destinations to watch showcase the diversity available to UK holidaymakers.
The report reveals the hidden gems of familiar destinations, such as the extensive mountain biking opportunities in Madeira and the city break destination, Thessaloniki.
Many of the places on the list offer good value breaks, thanks to cheap flights to Poland or a favourable exchange rate in South Africa. Bookings to Bulgaria next summer, a longstanding value for money destination, are already up 30% on this time last year.
The other destinations on the list are Costa Rica, Denver in Colorado, Galicia in Spain, Japan, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Western Australia.