Look back through the archives, or take a stroll around the V&A museum shop, and you will notice that the British holiday posters of yesteryear came with a disclaimer.
“Butlins, for holidays the weather can’t spoil,” claimed the seaside resort. “Travel Underground, never mind the weather,” advised London’s transport network. “Deal and Walmer: sunny…” boasted British Railways, before adding: “... and bracing.”
But these days, our cool and sometimes unpredictable summers seem to have become something of an asset rather than an asterisk. As the Med swelters, the US experiences record temperatures and the Middle East endures temperatures pushing 50 degrees, industry insiders say that the UK is appealing to a new set of tourists: those looking to feel a nip in the air during the summer months.
Rob Russell, CEO of inbound travel specialist AC Group said: “We are seeing a lot of unusual late demand from American travellers for the UK and Ireland in the last 10 days and I do believe that this potentially could be as a result of the press coverage of the wildfires and heat in the Mediterranean.
“For those who are looking to travel but not keen on the heat… we could be seeing a late switch to the UK.”
They may be disappointed, of course. The UK has experienced some of its hottest summers in recent years. Last year we saw our highest recorded temperature, 40.3C in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, and last month was the hottest June since records began. But as we have seen this year, and particularly right now, the heat does tend to come in bursts and rarely lasts all summer, meaning average daytime highs across the country through July and August sit somewhere between 18C and 21C.
The UK’s more temperate climate, compared to the Med at least, already has an established fan base in the Middle East. According to a survey conducted by Visit Britain, the UK’s climate was the number one motivation for visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. Some 27 per cent of tourists from the GCC cited weather as a reason for visiting. This was also a core consideration among people coming to the UK from India.
So as Europe sees hotter summers, will our friends from the southern half of the Continent start eyeing up the UK for a breath of fresh air?
Don’t rule it out. Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound said: “For many years, the UK has been a favoured destination for visitors from the GCC looking to escape the heat in the summer months,” he said.
“With the increased likelihood of annual high temperatures in continental Europe during the spring and summer, this might also [become a factor] for visitors from across the Channel.”
According to research by the European Travel Commission, the number of Europeans planning summer holidays to the Med dropped by 10 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. Cooler countries like Bulgaria, Ireland, Denmark and the Czech Republic were among the destinations receiving more visitors.
And the UK too. From January to March, tourist numbers were up 105 per cent year on year to 7.7 million. Spanish and French tourists are among the biggest markets, along with Americans, Irish and Germans. Scotland has also seen a big boost in international arrivals, up 29 per cent on pre-pandemic figures.
This could be a sign of things to come, according to HotelPlanner CEO and co-founder Tim Hentschel: “The UK, along with the Northern European coast and Scandinavia region are now positioned high on the list of European and American travellers,” he said. “Cool temperatures and plenty of rainfall are now appealing to guests from the European market against the backdrop of intense heat and the shocking evacuation images emerging from the Greek island of Rhodes this week.
“It is somewhat of a paradox when you consider the usual criteria for a summer holiday, but the desire for cool temperatures and rain has created a new band of consumers in the form of the ‘drizzle tourist’. Culture and nightlife are taking precedence over beaches and sun,” he added.
The point is echoed by industry expert Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of The Advantage Travel Partnership. “It’s no surprise that some [Europeans] are now opting for respite from the heat and opting for the cooler climate of the UK this summer,” she said. “If temperatures continue to increase over the coming years, we may well see this trend gain momentum.”
AITO’s Executive Director, Martyn Sumners, agrees: “Commonsense would dictate that, with the UK high on many nationalities’ ‘must visit’ lists, the current weather patterns would lead them to choose to come here during our pleasant summer months in future,” he said.
Perhaps, although the UK’s climate still motivates British holidaymakers in the opposite direction. Some 27 per cent of Britons said that the weather was the top potential barrier for booking a staycation – only the rising cost of living, with UK holidays often deemed pricey, was a greater consideration, according to Visit Britain.
And this still remains the case right now, even as Greek islands suffer extreme wildfires and southern Europe swelters. Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said the low-cost airline hasn’t witnessed a drop in business.
“Are we seeing any changes in demand patterns? No. In fact, if anything over the last two or three weeks we’ve seen stronger demand ex-Ireland, ex-UK, of people trying to get the hell away from the unseasonably high rainfall we’ve had,” O’Leary told Reuters.
It will be some time until British tourists trade in their summer holidays abroad. But who knows. Perhaps in 100 years from now, perusing a virtual reality V&A museum shop, people will look back on the vintage posters of the 2030s and 2040s targeted at international tourists, which boast: “Britain, for jumpers in July” or “Bring your brolly to Brighton.” Judging by the current winds of change, I wouldn’t rule it out.