The Staycation on the slide? How accurate was Holiday trends 2014?

06/01/2015 By Jon Young

6 January 2015

Holiday Trends 2014 predicted a drop in Britons taking a ‘Staycation’, 45% stating they were seriously considering taking a main holiday in the UK compared to 56% in 2013 and 58% in 2012. Our research was given widespread coverage in the press – The Times and the Evening Standard sounded the death knell of the staycation and a number of others joined them. We were not quite so pessimistic. Although intentions had indeed dropped since 2013, they were still higher than the 39% reported in 2010 - when the Staycation really took hold. Also, our survey went into field in one of the stormiest Januarys on record. As respondents filled out our questionnaire, BBC News 24 was showing footage of the train route to Cornwall wrenched off its foundations into the sea. An idyllic UK seaside holiday was clearly harder to imagine, but perhaps intentions would bounce back as the weather improved.

However, data from the Great Britain Tourism Survey (GBTS) suggests that, unlike the Cornish train tracks, our predictions were heading in the right direction. There were 77.7 million overnight domestic trips taken to August in 2014, compared to 82.7 million in August 2013 (down 7.7%).   Rolling 12 month results demonstrate that domestic overnight stays are as low as they were in 2010.

In September I attended ‘Staycation: What next’ hosted by The Tourism Society, where a panel of experts including Sharon Orrell from VisitEngland, gave their views on the direction of the domestic holiday. A key take-out was that the catch-all definition of domestic tourism (the Staycation) – although a headline grabber – is not that useful in helping us understand the phenomenon.

The catch-all definition and the timing of its rise leads us to assume that the Staycation is directly correlated with a drop in overseas holidays and lower disposable income. However, although these factors obviously contribute, further investigation shows that it is not simply a case of swapping overseas holidays for domestic holidays, and the movements are not necessarily amongst those most affected by the financial crisis.

From 2006-2013 there was a notable drop in long breaks overseas, but only a small jump in domestic long breaks. Domestic growth was driven by more short-breaks. In terms of age groups, the youngest (16-34s) went on 2.7 million less overseas holidays but also on 0.2 million less domestic breaks. 35-54s went on 4.2 million less overseas holidays and 1.6 million more in the UK, suggesting that some of this age group also dropped out of the holiday market. In contrast, the 55+ age group are going on 1.7 million less overseas breaks and a whopping 5.5 million more domestic breaks.

The Staycation picture also depends very much on the type of trip. City breaks have increased rapidly over the last few years and in 2012 overtook seaside breaks, which have barely shifted. When we separate coastal holidays (such as rural Cornwall) from trips to traditional seaside towns (such as Blackpool), the latter is actually on the slide.

Also, it is not always economic factors that drive our holiday behaviour. Although household income has declined in the last few years, spending on leisure has stayed fairly constant. Further, as outlined in The Economist in December, the amount of time we have at our disposal has a huge impact on our leisure behaviour. ‘Wealthier’ people are working longer hours than ever, whilst ‘less wealthy’ people are working less. This means that the former have more money but less time to enjoy it, and the latter the opposite. Conversely, retired Baby Boomers have lots of time and lots of disposable income. More generally, there is a desire for ‘digital downtime’ (an escape from screens) and we seek more regular, instant gratification. This clearly has major implications on the length and location of holidays for each demographic. It is no surprise that short breaks are on the up, and this is unlikely to change as the economy grows.

There are some encouraging findings for domestic tourism. A more affluent UK will not necessarily result in us all ditching Bournemouth for Bermuda. Many argue that the rise of domestic holidays in 2009 (whatever the reason) has reminded people of the beauty on their doorstep. This is backed up by VisitEngland research which shows that holiday-makers to England are more likely to want to take a holiday in England next year than abroad. There are also movements to develop the UK’s seaside offer. The National Coastal Tourism Academy in Bournemouth is looking at the growth of Wellness tourism and how this can be used to rejuvenate seaside towns. The Olympics and Jubilee heralded an ‘event nation’ – and there are plenty more to come in 2015. The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta has pushed the prominence of Salisbury in 2015, and it is the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland.

There are lots of reasons to be positive. We will be digging deeper into some of these figures in Holiday Trends 2015. And four years on Holiday Trends 2018 is available.