Analysis: So what's the outlook for 2013?

Analysis: So what's the outlook for 2013?

The Diamond Jubilee, weird weather and the Olympics distorted the domestic tourism market last year. Ian Taylor looks at prospects for this year

How should we summarise Britain as a destination in 2012? Great events, shame about the weather, might do.

Last year was the second-wettest on record. Spring was a washout. Yet the London Olympics was a triumph and the Diamond Jubilee a major draw.

Does that mean domestic tourism cannot possibly do better this year? Not necessarily: for one thing, the number of domestic holidaymakers last year was 2% down on 2011.

For another, research for Travel Weekly in February suggests two out of five UK adults are more likely to book a UK holiday this year than last – one in 10 are less likely – and half the population are currently planning a UK break.

If that surprises you, the same study, by Explore Research, found 37% of 500 respondents would consider booking a domestic break with an agent and almost one in 10 (8%) would “always book with a travel agency”.

The survey merely expresses an intention, of course, and people’s intentions change. A separate study in January 2012 found 70% of families planned a UK holiday of a week or more in the year, with researcher BDRC suggesting “intentions to spend less money” were driving this.

In the event, the numbers taking domestic holidays went down – perhaps because of the weather, perhaps because of the economic situation, but probably due to a combination of both.

Final domestic holiday numbers for 2012 were about one million down on the 58 million total in 2011, although spending was up 5% to almost £13 billion, mostly due to inflation.

Rural holidays were down 5% in the year to November and breaks at the sea down 3%. Yet London saw 8% more domestic visitors year on year, with England up 9%. The Olympics effect was reflected in the fact that August numbers were up 8% on 2011, but the months either side were down, July by 14% and September by 7%.

Spring and early summer were not helped by temperatures below average and rainfall above. The Diamond Jubilee month, June, saw domestic holidays up 2%, but May was down 6%, not helped by the spring bank holiday moving to early June. April fell 7%.

Perhaps most important is a longer-term comparison: the increase in 2012 over 2008 was about eight million holidays.

Domestic tourism, like outbound, is affected by people’s confidence and ability to spend. Yet the economic effects can be contradictory: some households may rein in spending on domestic breaks, others choose to stay put rather than go abroad.

How do UK tourism businesses see 2013? A VisitEngland survey in January noted: “The attractions and accommodation markets are stabilising.” It reported “a levelling of accommodation businesses in growth against those in decline” and “a shift towards growth for attractions”.

However, some businesses are struggling. One in 10 attractions and a similar proportion of accommodation businesses saw a 20%-plus fall in visitors last year, partly due to the Olympics, which “displaced visits around the UK”.

Accommodation providers were also more pessimistic than a year ago: those “very confident” about the period to Easter were down from 41% to 26%. However, 44% remained “fairly confident”.

Spring is the strongest season for domestic holidays, which are dominated by trips of one to three nights. These account for two thirds of the total.

UK consumers differ from those in other EU nations in that they spend more per night on domestic trips than holidays abroad (about one-third more). Yet they still spend more overseas in total.

TNS research for Travel Weekly last October suggested three out of five of UK adults (61%) take at least one domestic holiday a year.

Just over one in three (35%) take more than one domestic holiday; 20% go away in the UK twice a year and 15% three or more times. The same survey found 59% likely to take a UK holiday in 2013.

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