The Prospects for Overseas Tourism in 2020

By Jon Young

This time last year, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Brexit was the biggest challenge to UK tourism.  But fast forward 12 months, and COVID-19 means the sector faces its biggest threat in recent memory.

At the time of writing, the UK government has introduced a 14 day quarantine period for anyone arriving in the country, effectively ruling out outbound travel too.

The quarantine period has had a dramatic impact on consumer intentions.  Our weekly consumer tracker shows that:

  1. The differences in lead time between UK and Overseas trips have diverged considerably
  2. Britons next expect to take an overseas holiday in 7 months time – which takes us to the beginning of 2021 – compared to 4.5 months time for UK holidays.

Overseas tourism

There is no sugar coating the situation - it is pretty dire for the industry.  But, amidst all of the pessimism, our research provides some straws for the sector to clutch. Overseas travel is still a priority for the British public.  It’s more of a question of how and when, rather than whether they will go at all.

We’ve identified, three possible markets that will travel:

1. Come What May

At 4% they are small but there is a resilient group of people who are still determined to take an overseas holiday this summer (between now and September). Compared to those planning for a trip overseas after September, they are:

More likely to be ‘pre-nesters’ and ‘families’. These are two life stages that are less risk averse, and more resilient to the virus.

More likely to have come out of the crisis better off financially than they were before it, or to be confident that they won’t be financially impacted at all. These tend to be office-based workers who have saved money on child care and travel costs.
Come what may

For tour operators with hope of salvaging at least some summer business, this audience may be worth targeting.  Although limited demand may make low price trips unavoidable, ‘Come What May’ will have money to spend, so it’s worth maintaining some high ticket options.

2. Tried and Tested

As we entered lockdown, we asked the public to tell us where they were planning to take overseas trips this year.  This was before the 14 day quarantine, but far enough into the pandemic that people were cautious in their thinking.

Comparing the results to identical research we undertook in January, we were struck by the resilience of Mainland Spain (at the time, intentions to holiday there this year had held), and the vulnerability of France (intentions had plummeted).  The data suggested that a holiday to Mainland Spain offered benefits suited to the current mood:

1) Good value trips: The biggest influence for a trip to Mainland Spain is ‘price’, almost twice as important as those visiting France.

2) Packages mean certainty and simplicity: Trips to Mainland Spain are almost twice as likely as trips to France to be a package.  A package means less uncertainty – fewer hidden costs and logistical, physical and psychological touchpoints.

3) Familiarity: Mainland Spain also had a slight edge as somewhere people have visited before. A home from home is an important driver when reassurance on cleanliness and hygiene is so important.

Understanding people’s intentions as they entered the pandemic may be key to understanding them as we emerge from it.  On this basis, destinations should draw on the benefits of Mainland Spain, promoting good value for money, certainty of booking and familiarity where possible.

Tried and tested

3. Winter Sun

The overseas summer holiday is an annual fixture for most Brits. But with only 4% planning an overseas trip this summer, the implication is that there will be an increase in demand later in the year or early next year. Google search data also backs this up, demonstrating that searches for overseas trips in Q3 and Q4 are higher than in 2019.

So a third potential market for overseas holiday providers is Winter Sun. This is an audience that was already substantial pre-pandemic when it made up 17% of the UK population. Usually, only a proportion of those predicting winter sun trips will end up taking them. But for obvious reasons, this year is likely to be different. 38% of the UK population are either actively planning a trip between October and next March or would like to take one. More information can be found in our free annual report on the state of the UK holiday market.

Compared to the ‘tried and tested’ Mainland Spain audience the typical winter sun audience tends to be younger and more educated. There is a tendency towards package holidays and high-end hotels. For long haul winter sun, motivations are more rounded – authentic local experiences as well as sun and scenery.

There is, of course, a strong likelihood that the ‘Tried and Tested’ audience that usually go to Mainland Spain will now be looking for winter sun options too. Indeed, some people who usually go to the Costa Del Sol may be looking for alternatives for the first time in years. So, it’s important that winter sun alternatives provide options usually provided by Mainland Spain – good value for money, packages and reassurance of a familiar experience.

Winter sun market

For more information on our data, please get in touch.  Please also download our weekly COVID-19 tracker. 

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