Mark Tanzer: Holidaymakers spoilt for a choice of breaks

FOR most of us, holidays have become an essential, something to look forward to throughout the year, a chance to relax, unwind and put the stresses and strains of day–to-day life behind us.

FOR most of us, holidays have become an essential, something to look forward to throughout the year, a chance to relax, unwind and put the stresses and strains of day–to-day life behind us.

The current tough economic climate has made taking time out increasingly important, to such an extent that Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) research consistently finds that holidays are the last “luxury” that people are willing to cut back on, with Scots above the national average in their love of taking a break. However, these same economic realities also mean that the importance of good value holidays, always a top priority for consumers, becomes ever more relevant.

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Family budgets in particular have come under pressure in recent years and tour operators and hoteliers have responded to this and there are many good deals to be had. Here are some industry tips for those looking for good value holidays.

When you book is perhaps one of the most influential factors that affects cost. As a rule of thumb, the earlier you book the better the price. This is especially true if you are going to be travelling at a busy time of year, the main peaks being Christmas and New Year, Easter and July and August. The industry works on simple supply and demand principles, so the busiest times of year tend to be the most expensive. In addition, tour operators and airlines like you to book early so they know that they, and not their competitors, have got your business, so they will entice early bookers with discounts and special offers.

One of the industry’s responses to the squeeze on household budgets has been to expand the range and types of package holiday particularly all-inclusives on offer. All-inclusives have grown to such an extent that over half of the package holidays sold by the country’s two largest tour operators are now all-inclusive. All-inclusives offer a winning combination: the peace of mind from knowing a high percentage of your budget has been accounted for up-front and the relaxation that comes from knowing you don’t have to keep an eye of the pennies every time the kids want a soft drink or ice cream.

All-inclusives have come under criticism from some quarters for taking business away from local bars and restaurants, which is part of the reason why many travel companies insist that the hotels they work with sign up to sustainability initiatives, such as Travelife, which commit them to using local suppliers and providing good working conditions for their staff.

Of course, this kind of holiday is not for everyone, so are there other ways you can keep costs down without cutting back on the quality of your holiday?

Being flexible on your dates will help you secure the best deals. If you can, avoid travelling at weekends; the cheapest days of the week to fly are Tuesday and Thursday as, understandably, large numbers of us like to take a short break without using up annual leave.Even though booking early is still the best policy, late bookers shouldn’t despair, there will always be a resort or destination which for whatever reason, has not sold quite so well, and as long as you are prepared to be flexible on dates and the destination you should be able to get something late notice at a fairly reasonable price.

Families are an especially attractive and important market for the travel industry, but they are also more constrained in the times when they can take their holidays with school holidays falling in peak periods when prices are higher because of increased demand. But there are ways families can manage their budgets. For example, if you book a package holiday in January or February you will almost certainly be given a free child place, which can represent a substantial saving.

Also, if you are travelling with children, many low-cost or no-frills airlines don’t necessarily represent the good value they may seem to. Traditional scheduled and charter airlines will usually offer discounted child fares up to 12-years-old, whereas no-frills airlines will charge full adult fares as soon as your child takes up a seat. Economic pressures in some of our favourite Mediterranean destinations, particularly Spain and Greece, have led to bars and restaurants having to lower their prices to entice back local customers. Other countries such as Bulgaria, Sri Lanka and Cape Verde also regularly feature in the Post Office’s annual report which compares prices for a range of services worldwide showing the value offered by many overseas destinations.

• Mark Tanzer is the chief executive officer of ABTA