From the death of the overseas minibreak, to the rise of walking holidays, staycations and private jet charters, Covid has sparked a wide range of new travel trends – but how many are here to stay?
These are the ones to watch, and the ones to chalk up to a Covid ‘side effect’ – never, we hope, to be witnessed again.
The demise of the overseas city break
Pre-departure Covid tests, post-arrival tests, tests on your return home… what better way to get in the holiday mood than by dropping huge sums on nose swabs? Expense, stress and paperwork (so many locator forms!) have killed our spontaneous spirit, consigning short breaks to the bin. Until last month, when the UK Government axed its requirement for a negative test on return to the UK – and relaxed its rules on Day Two tests (though we’re still awaiting a date) – a quick trip to Europe was simply, for most, too stressful to contemplate.
“In September, my wife and I nearly booked a weekend in Spain,” says Telegraph reader John Carlton. “It was on the green list – but with two passenger locator forms to fill in, two tests to pay for, and a whole lot of stress if everything didn't go to plan, it all felt very overwhelming. In the end, we went for 10 days: going for longer felt like the only way to justify the effort.”
It’s little surprise that, as soon as the Government announced the easing of testing on September 17, airlines and operators immediately saw an uptick in short trip bookings and searches. The following day, an easyJet spokesperson told Telegraph Travel: “There [has already been an] increase in city break bookings, as holidaymakers have increased confidence to go away for shorter periods of time now that testing requirements are being reduced.”
In the month since, the appetite for quick trips has further increased, says easyJet Commercial Director Paul Bixby: “The most popular duration for short breaks this winter is three nights, with Iceland and Amsterdam our best selling destinations, while Krakow and Paris lead the way for next summer.”
And now, when booking longer holidays, Britons are choosing to visit just one destination – rather than squeezing multiple countries into one holiday. “This is due to the added complications of multiple Covid regulations and potential issues with border crossings,” explains Johnny Bealby, MD of adventure travel company Wild Frontiers. “As regards general trends, we are certainly seeing trips to wilderness countries like Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Oman proving very popular. But our UK trips have also received great feedback from our travellers [...] indeed, the creation of a new selection of adventures, closer to home, has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic.”
Holidays at home: here to stay?
The popularity of staycations has been more of a necessity than a trend over the past year – but domestic travel is here to stay, predicts Zina Bencheikh, EMEA MD of Intrepid Travel. “As we all become more aware of travel’s impact on the planet, I’d expect local travel to become a long term trend. The success of our UK product was one of the few wins from Covid. It’s something we wanted to do for a long time and Covid really accelerated that.”
Unsurprisingly, Cornwall and Devon were this summer’s most popular destinations, with over 18 per cent of the market share between them. But the pandemic has also sparked new interest in lesser-visited regions, says UK lettings company Snaptrip: properties in Wiltshire saw a 343 per cent increase in bookings year-on-year this summer, while Shropshire experienced a 211 per cent spike. Other unexpected honeypots included Clwyd, in north-east Wales (189 per cent), Staffordshire (181 per cent) and Herefordshire (177 per cent).
Looking long-term, Intrepid intends to continue its UK trips. “Although the world is opening up, we’re committed to the product and we’ll be continuing it for next year and beyond,” says Bencheikh. “Having [UK tours] is also important for us as a business, as we step up our efforts to decarbonise our product and work towards our sustainability targets.”
A breath of fresh air – and a room for one
A simple walk has, at some points over the past year, been our only chance to get outside and socialise – a necessity that is now being reflected in our choice of holidays, too, says adventure travel operator Explore. “Over the last three months, 31 per cent of all our bookings have been walking holidays – compared with less than 20 per cent in 2019,” explains MD Michael Edwards.
And we’re travelling solo, too. This quarter, 49 per cent of the company’s bookings were from lone travellers, compared with 42 per cent over the same period in 2019. “People have discovered walking and cycling in lockdown,” says Edwards, “but many of them might not share the interest with their loved ones, and so decide to join a small group holiday as a solo traveller.”
But the rise of solo travel isn’t exclusive to adventure holidays. According to research by Booking.com, 30 per cent of Britons are planning to travel alone in the near future, compared to 17 per cent pre-pandemic. “My partner and I have both decided to take solo holidays next year,” says Telegraph reader Joanna Maria. “We’re booking the same week off work but going away separately, to different places: after being in each other’s pockets over lockdown, it has given us something new to look forward to. We’ll take holidays together too, but this is an opportunity to be independent. I’m thinking of Mexico, or a diving trip to Egypt.”
The rise of private jet travel
For ultra-rich holidaymakers, the pandemic made private jet travel all the more alluring – with operators reporting a new diverse range of clients, not just the predominantly business travellers that filled flights pre-Covid.
“Many of these clients used to fly first class commercial, but in the wake of Covid have turned to private jets to avoid crowds at airports and flying with people they don’t know,” says Claudette Gharbi, Group VIP Charter Director at air charter specialist Chapman Freeborn. Current bookings are “similar numbers” to those before the pandemic in 2019, the company reports, citing a “huge demand” since the UK’s travel traffic light system was axed on October 4.
“This upturn in business, which we predict will continue throughout the fourth quarter of 2021 and beyond – providing we don’t have any more lockdowns – originates from a diverse mix of clients,” adds Gharbi.
For private jet travellers, the most popular destinations include the Middle East, Greece and the Greek islands, Montenegro and Italy – especially along the Adriatic coast, and other yachting hotspots. “However, destinations have been largely driven by the travel restrictions in place – those imposed by the UK Government and the governments of other countries.”
Long live package holidays
Amid the travel restrictions and border closures of the pandemic, package holidays have offered financial protection and stability in an uncertain world. “Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen an ongoing trend for holidaymakers booking with a travel professional,” says a spokesperson from ABTA – The Travel Association, which represents travel agencies.
“Given the uncertainties around travel over the past 18 months, our data has shown that people have been increasingly drawn to the added protection and peace of mind that comes with booking a package holiday.”
But as the world opens up, will package trips remain desirable? According to AITO, the Association of Independent Tour Operators, some 61 per cent of British travellers still intend to book their next trip with a travel company, rather than independently, regardless of whether they’re travelling domestically, short-haul or further afield.
“Self packaging may save a few pounds, but you are on your own,” says Bharat Gadhoke, the organisation’s Head of Commercial. “There is the assurance of financial protection and the comfort of knowing that there is expert help – and just as importantly, there is someone to turn to if needed during, and after, the holiday.”