The Changing Face Of British Holidays
We live in breathless times. Transport the average tech-savvy teenager fifty years into the past and they’d flounder. The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon topped the charts in the summer of 1966, but you’d have had a job streaming it onto your Bakelite phone. Things change, and change fast. Technology judders on.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
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And like almost everything in life – fashion, cars, computers, footballers’ wages – holidays have witnessed a revolution over the past half-century. Many of the trappings of travel that we now take for granted, from low-cost airfares and ticketless check-ins to weather apps and satnavs, would have been not just unheard of but unfathomable to the holidaymakers of the mid-60s.
And it’s not just how we travel that’s changed. It’s where we go. To California. To Cambodia. To Cuba. A survey released earlier this year by Monarch Airlines showed that only 19% of over-50s had spent their first holiday abroad, a figure that almost doubled to 37% where the younger generation was concerned. More than a third of UK kids have now holidayed in Spain. (The very first British package holiday to the Med, incidentally, took place in 1950 – it cost £32 and 10 shillings, and included “meat-filled meals” and accommodation in old army tents.)
Last year’s unlikely news that fun-in-the-sun hotspot Benidorm was applying for UNESCO World Heritage status helped show just how entrenched overseas holidays have become. “Tourism is now the world’s most dynamic and important industry,” a spokesman for the Spanish resort explained at the time. “Pioneering holiday destinations like Benidorm deserve to be taken seriously.”
Further afield, meanwhile, many of the long-haul destinations that are now relatively straightforward for us to reach would, fifty years ago, have been seen as impossibly intrepid. The likes of Thailand, Sri Lanka or Costa Rica were once places reserved for anthropologists or Tintin adventures. These days, an all-inclusive break in the tropics is just a few clicks away.
Provided you’ve got the budget, the implausible has become possible. Two weeks’ trekking in Nepal with a spa break in Dubai on the way back? Done. A few nights in Las Vegas followed by island-hopping in Hawaii? Easy. A self-drive holiday in Australia with a shopping stopover in Hong Kong? No problem. And don’t forget to live-tweet the highlights.
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Giving The Sun-Lounger A Miss
This has all been aided, in part, by the fact that we get more time off work than our forebears. In the UK, it was only as recently as 1939 that it became compulsory by law for labourers to receive a week off work. By the 1960s a two-week entitlement had become commonplace – fast forward to today and almost six weeks is the norm. (We were more fortunate in other respects too. New Year’s Day, for example, didn’t become a Bank Holiday in the UK until 1974. Picture the cheeriness with which the typical worker showed up bushy-tailed at 9am.)
As holidaymakers, we’re also more adventurous than we used to be. Take food as an example. Yes, it’s still possible to find full English breakfasts in more parts of the world than might feasibly be expected – “More HP sauce please, amigo!” – but most people now have at least a cursory interest in sampling the local cuisine, and our tastes have also become broader in terms of everything from accommodation to activities. “Authentic” is now one of the biggest buzz-words in travel.
Research shows that the types of holidays we’re taking have undergone a gradual shift from traditional fly-and-flop breaks to the kind of trips that place as much worth on fresh experience as they do on relaxation. In other words, if there’s scope to hike up a mountain, swim with whale sharks, take a sunrise game drive or explore a manic local market, so much the better. For an increasing number of us, the poolside lounger can wait.
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The Strength Of A Staycation
Of course, none of this means that we’re not holidaying at home anymore. The latest figures from Visit Britain showed that almost half of the population were planning a domestic break in 2016, with 26% of us looking to take a “long holiday” in the UK at some point over the course of the year. Cornwall remains the most popular destination of all, and one 2015 study even suggested that we value “playing ‘I Spy’ on car journeys” as part of our ideal UK holiday.
In significant ways it’s also become easier to arrange a break away, regardless of whether we’re heading to Bognor, Bordeaux or Bali. The rise and rise of online travel sites has made it simpler than ever to conduct meaningful research into where we want to go, and how and when we want to go there.
Organising the various components of a holiday, from car hire to accommodation and from restaurant bookings to attraction tickets, can all be done without so much as talking to another person, let alone leaving your front door.
And as for the future – who knows? It’s now 175 years since Thomas Cook started the holiday industry rolling in 1841 with the ground-breaking offer of a shilling-a-head rail excursion from Leicester to Loughborough. Quite what he would have thought if he’d had a smartphone pressed into his hands and been told he could book a trip to the Far East by prodding the screen a few times is anyone’s guess. Give it another couple of generations and, frankly, anything could happen. Holidays on the moon, anyone?
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