Delivering ever more diverse seasonal travel plans is a challenge, says Dave Cruickshank, chief executive of ATCORE

The typical Christmas from 20 years ago is reminiscent of cold weather, awfully patterned woolly jumpers and the scent of pine wafting from the tree in the corner; all captured on those poor quality – yet lovable – video recorders from the late 90’s. However, with the world seeming to become a smaller place with every passing year, more and more people are looking to get away from home over the festive period. Total year-end travel has grown by 25% in fewer than 15 years, and travel companies need to take advantage of this increasing desire to take flight during this time.

Providing the inspiration and delivering the dream

Throughout the rest of the year, people booking holidays will typically look to a broad destination before adding extras onto the trip to compliment it – like visiting Cancun and booking to go swimming with turtles, or going to the south of France and taking a trip to a vineyard. However, at Christmas this is reversed, and the entire reason for travelling is driven by activities – Christmas markets or a visit to Father Christmas. As a result, holidays in the festive season can become stressful and complicated to organise perfectly.

To address this, travel booking companies need to be able to offer an integrated reservation system that teams inspiration with functionality and performance – allowing them to book everything in one place. In turn, through improving ease of use and peace of mind for the customer, providers are rewarded for these efforts with increased revenue.

Of course, travel during the festive period has its favourites. Last year saw a 62% increase in bookings for skiing holidays, 465,000 tourists visited Lapland in December 2017, and a year prior to that, Iceland witnessed a 42.4% increase in tourism during the winter – the allure of the Northern Lights and early season slopes is strong. Millennials are losing interest in the material, instead, they’ve now developed a taste for experiences. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in flights closer to Christmas as people look to make the most of their week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and Heathrow will see 1,188,741 people arrive and depart between December 21 and 25.

Whether they’re following tradition or trends, anyone looking to escape over the festive period will have an array of different sources for their inspiration, be it social media, blogs, TV or family. However, as the digital world continues to shape how we work, the most successful travel companies of the future will maximise this opportunity to leverage rich content, all while having the breadth of product and availability to be able to deliver on even the most adventurous festive travel plans into 2019 and beyond. Travel providers need to ensure they can provide the inspiration whilst also catering to travellers’ desires as much as they can, but where are people heading?

Making the most of your own doorstep

While the most popular destination for Brits to be travelling to this December is Amsterdam – with 3,800 flights heading over to the Dutch capital this month – many UK residents will be on the move this festive season, but won’t be looking to cross any channels. A bit further afield than staying at home or visiting family, hundreds of holiday-makers will be setting off by car or train around the country. Destinations such as the Cotswolds, Northumberland and north Yorkshire all become popular at this time of year, as many look to escape to the countryside in search of a frosty, festive getaway with some incredible views and wholesome country walks.

Christmas Markets

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christmas markets scattered across Europe. From Leuven to Vienna, and Edinburgh to Strasbourg, each offers a slightly different spin on the most festive atmospheres filled with mulled wine and Christmas trinkets. London’s Winter Wonderland welcomes millions of visitors each year, and while the city in itself is a festive delight, one of the main attractions to the capital of England lies waiting in Hyde Park, not to forget the likes of Bath and Birmingham, both of which are famous for their Christmas set ups.

Festive Escapes

At this time of year, any break can arguably be described as a ‘festive escape’, but the most “Christmassy” of Christmas getaways need a mention of their own. There are some incredible corners of the world offering once in a lifetime opportunities, with many travellers heading to Lapland in the northern reaches of Finland in hunt of reindeer and Santa’s village, or making their way to Iceland, hoping to get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis and unwind in ice bars. Nothing says Christmas quite like snow, sleighs and St. Nick – and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights! And the numbers are increasing impressively, in fact in 2016, overnight stays in Lapland by foreign travelers increased by 18 percent, to a total of 2.6 million.

New Year City Breaks

The festive season culminates, of course, in the turn of the year. Cities all over the world celebrate New Year’s Eve in various ways, and as part of that growing desire for experiences held by Millennials, going into the new year immersed in foreign traditions and new surroundings offers a hugely unique opportunity. According to ABTA research, last year saw over half the British population taking city breaks – and New Year’s celebrations are a perfect excuse to escape.

Why not venture further afield than watching the fireworks on the TV? New Year’s Eve in Venice is met with thousands of strangers willingly kissing each other, Madrid’s is celebrated with a dozen grapes for good luck (one for each month of the year), and little can compare to Hogmanay in Edinburgh, with Auld Lang Syne echoing around the city. There are thousands of yearly traditions around the world – why settle for the same thing every year?

Whilst for many, Christmas and New Year is a family affair, as a whole, we’re starting to look at mixing up traditions and travelling further afield for the festive season. What better way to escape the stresses of everyday life and cap off the year with a new adventure. The challenge travel companies face is how to provide this inspiration whilst having the breadth of product and reservation platform to deliver the ever more diverse seasonal travel plans.