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ABTA predicts the new popular holiday destinations for 2003

The travel industry is very optimistic for 2003, 2002 has been a very unusual year for the travel industry…

The travel industry is very optimistic for 2003, 2002 has been a very unusual year for the travel industry. The combined events of 11 September 2001 and a slowing down of the global economy meant slightly fewer package holidays were sold, but indications of early sales for summer 2003 means that growth is expected to resume in 2003.

The total number of overseas holidays taken in 2002 will exceed 38 million, of which at least 21 million will be package holidays.

The ICC Cricket World Cup in South Africa in February and March and the Rugby World Cup in October and November in Australia will boost the profiles of these already very attractive long-haul destinations.

New Popular Destinations for 2003 are predicted to be:

CHINA – As China opens up more of its countryside to tourists and floods the spectacular Three Gorges in the Yangtze River, interest in the country has risen to unprecedented levels. In 2002 many operators saw a substantial increase in demand to see the Gorges before they were lost forever. In fact, cruises will still be possible in the area, but the landscape will, of course, fundamentally change. Experts predict that the Dam itself is set to become a major attraction.

The Oscar winning film `Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon` has also highlighted China`s mystic heritage, which has helped increase interest in the country`s history, and as a result operators have laid on specially created tours.

MEXICO – On the edge of the Caribbean, Mexico has become a major player for Brits when it comes to winter sun. Fabulous diving, beaches and ancient civilisations offer something for everyone and in Spring 2003 the new film `Once Upon a Time in Mexico` and the blockbuster Aztec exhibition at the Royal Academy promise to influence any who need convincing.

CROATIA – Before the tragic civil wars in Yugoslavia, the country attracted 500,000 UK visitors a year. Most went to the beautiful Italianate resorts of Dubrovnik, Split and Rovign on the Dalmatian coast along what is now Croatia. The hundreds of idyllic islands dotted along this coast make for perfect sailing, and the crystal clear sea and the good value for money, has meant that the country has experienced steep growth in the number of visitors in the past few years. The region before the wars had aimed to attract mass tourism, but now development has taken a more upmarket approach.


Ten new countries are preparing to join the EU in 2004 – some are already popular holiday destinations – but others in Eastern Europe may benefit from the increased recognition EU membership will bring. Relevant laws for tourism and travel are being brought into line to harmonise with the legislation that is already in place across the existing 15 states and although the climate is at best unpredictable, there is much to excite cultural and outdoor adventurers.

The countries which include Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Hungary, have all experienced turbulent yet fascinating histories particularly during the twentieth century when both communism and World War 2 had profound impact. Now these countries have thrown off the constrictions of communism and have reunited themselves with historic heritages while embracing a modern outlook.

Stunning architecture and medieval towns are features throughout each country, and much has been painstakingly restored. In addition vast amounts of countryside with, forested mountains, rolling plains and thermal waters negate much of the Eastern Bloc stereotype.

Some highlights include:

THE CZECH REPUBLIC – Prague is already phenomenally popular as a short city break, but most Brits do not venture outside of the capital despite the fact that the country boasts fairy-tale castles, chateaux, manors and well-preserved medieval towns. The transport network is excellent and prices are substantially lower outside Prague.

SLOVAKIA – The capital Bratislava is tipped to be the `new Prague` – and is only 55 km from Vienna. The old town is blessed with baroque architecture, excellent museums, galleries and a thriving cafe scene. The country itself also boasts distinctive architecture with 150 castles and chateaux, while forested mountain ranges, national parks, sandstone canyons and nature reserves dominate the Slovakian landscape. Slovaks have been particularly careful to preserve their costumes, musical and dance heritages.

HUNGARY – is also full of historical and architectural treasures, and Budapest – a former imperial city – has impressive boulevards and its Castle District is full of pastel houses and narrow streets. Thermal waters lie near to the surface, so many visitors make for the spa hotels in Budapest to enjoy mud treatments from the The Heviz thermal lake.

POLAND – The largest country in Eastern Europe, has a history which is both tumultuous and fascinating. Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz are all cities with traumatic stories to tell. But the country is now an easy and attractive destination and has experienced a large amount of regeneration and restoration. Poland`s mountains and Baltic coast are a haven for bikers, hikers and explorers.

SLOVENIA – The most affluent of the former Yugoslavian countries, Slovenia has an amazing variety of settings to go along with its Habsburg Empire and Venetian Republic heritage. Bled Castle is perhaps the most well-known tourist attraction, but the country has a small but charming coastline, the Julian Alps and an extraordinary array of caves.

BULGARIA – although it is not joining the EU, ABTA members will be offering Bulgaria as a mainstream destination this year and expect that the great beaches and cheap prices will provide the draw.

PUERTO RICO – With the rise in popularity of the Spanish Caribbean, Puerto Rico has the advantage that it has long been a hub for Caribbean Islands. For lovers of Cuba, San Juan`s nightlife rivals Havana and can also boast centuries-old fortresses. Puerto Rico is a country full of contrasts and fusions reflecting its American, African, Spanish, British and Spanish influences. Phosphorescent bays, rain forests, mountains are just as much a part of Puerto Rico as the high rise buildings of San Juan and Ford Mustangs.

SOUTH AMERICA – Interest in Latin America over recent years has grown significantly over the last three years and with better connections, regional air passes and improving hotel networks, South America is becoming easier to explore. Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil lead the way for first time visitors. Ecuador is a nature-lover`s paradise with the unsurpassed wildlife diversity of the Galapagos Islands, the snow-capped peaks of Avenue of Volcanoes and tropical rainforests. Peru is best known for the Inca mountain hideaway of Machu Picchu, while the home of Samba, Iguassu Falls, the beautiful game and the Amazon Basin pulls the crowds to Brazil and the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

Britain`s Favourite Destinations

SPAIN – Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands is the number one destination for British holidaymakers (note: France would be number one in terms of total visitor numbers if day-trippers were included). Large numbers have also become bought properties in Spain, guaranteeing a steady stream of visitors.

The Balearic Islands including Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca are the most popular area of Spain. Mallorca and Menorca traditionally attract family visitors, while Ibiza has become the number one name in club chic and so appeals to a younger audience. The Canary Islands of Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuertaventura – situated just off the North Western coast of Africa – are volcanic and have a sub-tropical dry and warm climate. This means that they are popular during summer and also busy during the winter months, particularly with senior citizens, many spending up to eight weeks there to avoid the cold weather back home.

The Costas, which kicked off mass market holidays over 30 years ago, still retain their beach appeal, but `culture vultures` also love mainland Spain. While holidaymakers on beach breaks often visit the Moorish cities of Grenada, Seville and Cordoba in the South, short breaks to the cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Bilbao have rocketed in popularity since increased competition has substantially reduced the price of flights. Similarly, the more deserted beaches of Costa de la Luz, and the sherry region of Jerez are offering more to the British holidaymaker this year.

FRANCE – France is still the number one destination for British day-trippers. Innovative incentives by the ferry companies, the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar have ensured that the customer is still well served with value and choice. Shopping is a big draw, despite the loss of duty free within the EU in 1999. Research in 2000 showed that 2.4 million British visitors to France were travelling in order to shop, most of them as day trips (ONS Travel Trends 2001).

France is also the UK`s favourite ski destination, as not only has it the highest resorts in Europe, it also has the biggest ski areas too. Meanwhile Paris continues to be the favourite European city break of choice with its ever increasing museums and exhibitions while children love the Disney resorts.

The number of airline routes into France has also increased dramatically in 2002 thanks to no-frills expansion. There are now more flights going into the ski regions, but areas as diverse as Bergerac, Dijon, Toulon, Rouen and Bordeaux have all benefitted from the no-frills culture. Many of these areas have seen a boost in property prices as Brits buy second homes that they can get to affordably and easily.

GREECE – Summer 2002 has been a great success for Greece, which outperformed other Mediterranean destinations, thanks largely to the competitive price of most of its holidays, rising accommodation standards and infrastructure improvements at some of its airports notably Rhodes, Crete and Corfu. Athens has also benefited immensely from traffic restrictions and vastly improved infrastructure in preparation for the 2004 Olympics and is ideal for those wanting to experience the authentic Greek way of life and the most important antiquities in the Western world.

Crete, Rhodes, Corfu and Kos are well-loved, and well-established destinations. The Cyclades, including the popular islands of Mykynos and Ios, and the Dodecanese, including Rhodes, are likely to be popular with those who enjoy island-hopping.

The resort of Faliraki in Rhodes has hit the headlines this year because of a number of TV documentaries portraying young customers and holiday reps `behaving badly`. Although there have been rumours of authorities cracking down in the interests of safety, Faliraki is still set to continue to be a lively and popular resort in 2003.

USA – The USA remains the number one long haul destination. A great deal of marketing activity has gone on since 11 September 2001 and British visitors have stayed loyal. This has been unsurprising, as a large number of the British who arrive each year are repeat visitors and are familiar with the country. Florida, with its miles of white sandy beaches warm waters and theme parks tends to be the first choice for first-time British visitors, with New York, California and the New England states as favourites for those on subsequent visits.

ITALY – Lovers of art, music and architecture flock to the cultural centres of Rome, Venice, Verona and Florence, but as if this wasn`t enough, Italy also showcases its globally adored cuisine among beautiful countryside, mountains and lakes. Many choose to holiday off the coast on the beautiful islands of Sardinia and Sicily, while its Alpine mountain resorts are popular with skiers. Italy is also accessible through its extensive and reasonably-priced transport system. A number of no-frills airlines have also joined the scheduled and charter airlines serving Italy and so increased competition has resulted in wider choice and value for customers.

IRISH REPUBLIC – Ireland offers a quiet and relaxed pace of life amongst friendly, hospitable people. The types of accommodation available are wide-ranging and the standard is high. Dublin has a rich history and diverse cultural attractions which together with the increased number of competitively priced flights and the appeal of Temple Bar has made it the number one city-break destination for stag and hen parties wanting to sample Ireland`s craic. However, a third of all visits to the Republic are for the purpose of visiting friends and family.

NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam remains one of the most frequently visited cities in Europe due to its laid back attitudes and great art. But the Hague and Maastrict also feature in a number of British city break programmes. The country is also sold as a great destination for a short holiday, which can combine the famous Dutch bulbfields with a visit to its neighbour Belgium and the medieval cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp.

PORTUGAL – While Lisbon and Oporto have become popular city break destinations, Portugal`s south coast is still very popular with summer holidaymakers and the Algarve is the most established tourist region, offering unspoilt Atlantic beaches and some of the finest golf courses in the world. Other popular resorts can be found along the Costa Verde, Costa de Prata and the Costa de Lisboa. For those looking to explore, Portugal offers a mix of fine beaches, reasonably priced and high quality cuisine, a large inland area (Planicies) where there are countless local festivals and the most southwesterly point of mainland Europe, Cape St Vincent. In 2003, Madeira and the Azores will also become more accessible.

TURKEY – Visitors to Turkey are set to rise in 2003 with mass-market tour operators expanding their capacity again after adopting a cautious policy in 2002. Despite worries that visitors would be nervous of visiting a Muslim country in the East of the Mediterranean, Turkey saw international visitors increase in the first months of 2002. With a range of attractions, and very good value for money repeat business is estimated at 40%. With 5,000 miles of dramatic coastline, sun seekers, water sports and sailing enthusiasts are well catered for. Most stick to the western Mediterranean coast, or Turquoise coast, and Antalya has become an attractive resort with several fine beaches. On the Aegean coast, Bodrum and Kusadasi are favourites for those looking for good beaches and a lively nightlife. Sailing on a budget is provided on the local yachts, gulets. Istanbul has also become a popular city break destination combining the best of east and west. Not known to many, Turkey also has some of the best preserved classical ruins in the world with the magnificent Greek city of Ephesus leading the way.

CYPRUS – Cyprus remains popular as a winter and summer destination. Larnaca in the southeast, Limassol in the South and Paphos in the west are the biggest resorts.

The Famagusta district, which produces vegetable crops for export, hosts the resort of Protaras and boasts the best beaches on the island including Pernera beach and Fig Tree Bay. Ayia Napa is also in this area, which for the past five years has been a by word for clubbing. Despite a crack down on rowdy and bad behaviour and a concerted effort from the Cypriots to reposition the resort as a family centred destination, `Napa` will still appeal to the serious dance music fan.

But Cyprus is not just beaches and clubbing and the hill resort of Platres is likely to become a favourite for those looking for a relaxing time walking through the spectacular forests and mountain villages.

THE CARIBBEAN – The Caribbean, with its 35 different countries attracted over a million UK visitors in 2001. Although the main attractions are undoubtedly the beaches, the differences of culture and the range of holidays people can go on is immense. The Caribbean is full of European flavours and the attractions of the lively resorts of Jamaica and Cuba are very different from the quiet elitist islands that only celebrities and the mega rich can afford. In recent years, the Caribbean has become more accessible to families with the introduction and expansion of the all-inclusive hotels and resorts.

The top ten countries for UK visitors are Barbados, Cancun, Mexico, Jamaica, Domincan Republic, Cuba, Antigua, St Lucia, Bahamas, Grenada and Bermuda.

In 2003, more flights will become available to Cuba, and so Havana is set to regain its role as the party capital of the Caribbean. This is part of a general increase in popularity of the Spanish Caribbean which, with its cheaper prices but still good standards, are attracting a new, more budget conscious traveller. At the other end of the scale, Anguilla – the perfect rock star hideaway – and Turks & Caicos have become the new hip destinations. Both have perfect unspoilt beaches, fantastic diving and are still very undeveloped.


Although 71% of package holidaymakers take a summer sun or beach holiday, the relative cost of going abroad has come down, and so we are becoming more demanding and adventurous. Frequently other types of holiday are being taken. Activity holidays, for example, which includes cycling, skiing and water sports, now make up 8 per cent of package holidays.

LONG HAUL HOLIDAYS – Long haul holidays have remained as popular in 2002 as they have ever been. Sales of round the world tickets have increased and because destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand have not been affected by the recent terrorist problems, their popularity has been maintained. Despite this, the US remains the number one long haul destination, while Australia is perceived by many to be `the dream destination`.

Numbers to Mexico and to the Caribbean have risen dramatically in recent years, reflecting the increased choice in charter flights, competitive prices and the British holidaymaker taking advantage of good value all-inclusive resorts.

The Far East is popular, not only with independent travellers, but also with those on inclusive tours. Thailand is a favourite with British holidaymakers, as are Malaysia, Singapore and, increasingly, Vietnam. Kenya continues to attract those looking for a safari experience while South Africa is proving popular as a winter sun destination.

2002 has been a tough year for Dubai and the Emirates, both of which have recently invested a great deal in hotels and been attracting more visitors from Britain. Dubai has become a particular favourite for those looking for fine beaches and duty-free shopping, but growth has already started to resume.

CRUISING – The cruise market in Britain has grown exponentially in the last few years to become second only to the United States. Nearly 800,000 passengers are carried a year now and 2003 will see the results of the travel industry`s efforts to widen the market still further to include families and younger passengers. The Caribbean and the Mediterranean are already firm favourites for those flying to their holiday destination to join their cruise. Fly-cruises to colder climes have also recently risen in popularity and particularly appeal to seasoned travellers who want to experience something completely different. For these clients, wildlife is the attraction and sightings of polar bears, penguins, whales and other rare species are often promised. Scandinavia and Alaska have already become popular and with widespread coverage of the anniversary of Ernest Shackleton`s expeditions, Antarctica has become the new cutting edge destination. River cruising in Europe allows the opportunity to travel from city to city and leisurely view the scenery. Germany leads the market here, and this type of sight seeing particularly appeals to the more mature market.

SHORT BREAKS – Short breaks have increased rapidly over the last few years and by the end of 2002 5.6 million short break holidays will have been taken for the year. They have also increased their market share. In 1997 11.7 per cent of all holidays were short breaks, whereas now 15 per cent of holidays will be short break holidays and this growth looks likely to increase further in the coming years. The reasons for rapid growth in this sector are numerous. The pattern of holiday taking has changed with people taking more than one short break a year rather than just one two week break in the summer. The increase in numbers of couples with no children has also contributed to this trend as has the number of airlines who offer short-haul, non-flexible (but very cheap) flights to European cities.

Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges and Rome were this year`s top four destinations, and while Paris lost some ground to other French cities such as Marseilles, Bruges became more popular aided by the award of European City of Culture. But increasingly Eastern European destinations have seen a surge in demand. Prague for instance saw a 121 per cent increase in popularity before the floods in August 2002, while Warsaw, Moscow and St Petersburg are all emerging as attractive destinations along with Cairo and Dubai. Although New York lost out on a lot of visitors early in 2002, it gained ground and is set to recover in 2003.

WINTER HOLIDAYS – Snowsports play a vital part in the winter holiday market. Around 1.5 million people take a skiing holiday each year, many now opting to try snowboarding as well. The most popular destinations for skiing are resorts in France, Austria and Italy. Many people are choosing to travel further afield taking advantage of the strong pound and availability of charter flights, Canada and the United States have seen a massive rise in popularity over the past 10 years.

The most popular wintersun destinations are Tenerife and the other Canary Islands, but the north African countries of Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt do offer good value alternatives, while the Caribbean, Florida, Mexico, Australia and South Africa are all beginning to offer more affordable winter sun experiences.

NO-FRILLS AIRLINES – In 2002 the traditional airlines tackled the challenge of the no-frills airlines head on. British Airways launched Future Size and Shape, which meant that customers could book lower cost flights from its new website. Meanwhile BMI launched bmibaby, (which has now taken over all BMI routes out of East Midlands airport); Mytravel launched MyTravelLite from Birmingham airport and British European launched Flybe.

With expansion of the no-frills airlines has come increased numbers of complaints as customers realise that they do not receive the same level of customer service from budget airlines. However, there are no signs that no-frills airlines will stop growing in 2003 especially because a European city break is not the luxury item it used to be. Cities such as Bologna and Naples in Italy, Copenhagen in Denmark, Zurich in Switzerland, Bordeaux and Lyon in France and Berlin in Germany are all on offer and the range is expanding.

WEDDINGS AND HONEYMOONS – Getting married in an exotic, yet romantic setting at a fraction of the price of a UK wedding is all that is needed to persuade 30,000 couples a year to get married abroad. This market again looks healthy for 2003. The number of people attending wedding parties overseas has also grown to about six and Mediterranean destinations such as Cyprus and Greece, have also risen in popularity. The top destinations for weddings abroad are the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Florida.

Long haul destinations for honeymoons remain enticing with Mauritius, Seychelles, the Greek Islands, Thailand, Australia, the Caribbean and the Bahamas proving to be favourites.

SPA HOLIDAYS – Spa holidays are becoming increasingly popular. One specialist ABTA member reported a 27% growth in 2001 and a 20% growth in 2002. Essentially spa resorts and hotels have been developed around natural phenomena such as volcanic or mineral springs, but man-made spas which focus on treatments have also been experiencing a rise in demand. Growth in the area has been for the 18-60 year olds who buy treatments rather than the traditional spa client who would be over 60, with non-specific aches and pains or with specific health complaints.

People go for all kinds of reasons including pampering, de-stressing, counselling, detoxing, weight loss or just to relax while typical activities and treatments include aromatherapy, fangotherapy (mud-application therapy) homeopathy and yoga. Spas can be found all over the world, with the Far East, the Caribbean and Europe coming out top.

Trends was compiled by Frances Tuke of the ABTA Corporate Affairs Department – December 2002

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.