It’s safe to say that travelling last summer was chaotic AF. Travellers faced endless queues in airports, as pandemic-era lay-offs meant that airlines and airports were massively understaffed and unable to cope with the summer-holiday rush. Once travellers managed to reach their destination, many were left stranded without their luggage and faced jam-packed beaches and overcrowded tourist hotspots.
As if that wasn’t enough, summer 2022 was also characterised by a series of natural disasters linked to the climate emergency. Across Europe and North America, there were record-breaking droughts and heatwaves, which caused wildfires to ravage many regions – including tourist hotspots – and killed over 20,000 people in Europe.
So, given that travelling in summer is increasingly stressful, unpleasant and sometimes downright dangerous, why do we continue to pack ourselves onto overbooked budget flights between June and September?
Winter is the new summer
Well, things could be changing. As summertime temperatures are set to continue to soar to catastrophic levels, there seems to be a shift in people seeking sun during the colder months, and dodging peak-season crowds. Even families with young kids, who typically don’t have a choice but to travel in summer, are considering other options.
Katherine, a hairdresser and mum-of-two from London, is one of them. ‘In the past, we’ve had to travel during the summer because of the school holidays,’ she says. ‘But since pandemic restrictions lifted, it’s been complete chaos. So we’re already planning our holiday this year over Christmas instead.’
According to TripAdvisor’s Winter Travel Index, over two-thirds of global travellers had trips planned for this winter. ‘When we look at the fastest growing destinations between December and February, there’s a clear increase in the number of Brits escaping Europe to seek winter sun,’ says Skye Ferguson, a spokesperson at TripAdvisor. ‘All of the top 15 fastest-growing destinations are over a seven-hour flight from the UK, with Southeast Asia taking nine of the top spots. Vietnam is hugely popular with British travellers, alongside Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.’
As well as choosing long-haul destinations, people are going away for longer periods in winter. ABTA’s Travel in 2023 report identifies ‘hibernation holidays’ as one of the key trends in travel next year, with companies including Jet2holidays and TUI seeing an increase in UK travellers booking extended winter breaks, compared with pre-pandemic numbers.
There’s also a money-saving element with longer stays. If you can find somewhere with cheap enough accommodation, hunkering down on a far-flung beach for a couple of weeks is certainly one way to save on the stratospheric cost of heating bills. And you’ll pocket even more savings if you wait until after New Year. ‘If you can hold out and travel after the festive holidays, we’ve found flight prices for long-haul destinations tend to drop considerably for departures from the first week of January,’ says Evan Day, KAYAK UK Country Manager.
Smart travellers have long favoured going abroad in the spring and autumn ‘shoulder seasons’, typically March/April and September/October. But it looks like venturing further afield during the winter is becoming an increasingly popular choice for people who might typically travel during summer.
And there’s one other potential upside to this trend. Overtourism is destroying communities and having a devastating impact on nature, and popular destinations bear the brunt of mass tourism during the summer.
Last year, Italy enforced new restrictions on the number of cars permitted along the Amalfi Coast from June to September. In southern France, visitor numbers at two of Marseille’s popular calanques were drastically capped to prevent further damage to the National Park’s ecosystem, caused by summertime overcrowding. In 2018, Thailand had to indefinitely shut down access to Maya Bay, one of its most popular beaches. Though the beach reopened last year, the country is reportedly cracking down on unruly tourists and larger groups. Spreading visitors out more evenly across the year might be one way to tackle problems like these, as well as helping boost local tourism economies year-round.
We all love a summer getaway. But after last year’s disastrous summer travel season, and with deadly heatwaves forecasted to worsen, it’s about time we ask ourselves: at what cost?
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