Reflections on a May Day Weekend

A third of the year has gone and, as we get ready for the huge number of events being celebrated over this long weekend, it is worth pausing to look at what seems to be happening to the efforts to attract us to visit destinations so far.
The impact of the Icelandic volcanic eruption is still to be felt. Will we travel abroad less because of concerns this may happen again? (I know people who are still in China some twelve days after the flight ban was lifted.) Will we view the disruption as one of those events that happen only once a lifetime and forget it as quickly as it began or will we holiday at home more? Research from TNS Research International suggests that the majority of us won’t let it affect our travel plans. But it did cause hotel prices to rise, which, despite what some hoteliers say, was dictated by more than the normal laws of supply and demand. According to trivago.co.uk, people stranded in Berlin had to pay a 63% increase in rates over the time immediately before the eruption.

Air fares will probably rise as well. Not because of the volcano necessarily but because the pound is declining against the dollar and aviation fuel is priced in dollars. About a third of all airline costs come down to fuel so if it rises, and the pound continues to weaken, higher costs seem inevitable. And we have those rises in November of air passenger duty although both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have said they will reform it if they are successful in the election.

It doesn’t look as though we will be visiting the USA in as great a number as in the past either. According to the US Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, bookings from the UK last year were down by 15% over 2008, a figure they called “alarming” as it meant we contributed some $4.6 billion less to the US economy. So what are we doing?

A YouGov poll for Visit Guernsey suggests we want to explore at our own pace and potter around. Domestic tour operators and holiday companies are still predicting a good year as we stay at home. But tour operators taking us abroad also say there is a bigger demand. Maybe it is all due to feeling better about life as confidence grows after the recession.

And you need confidence, I would have thought, if you go Yemen but British tourism rose by 52% last year. It masks the fact that tourism growth began from a small base but, nonetheless, it shows a taste for adventure. But in some cases the adventure comes to us. One of the winners in the Enjoy Excellence Awards was Totally Wild, the UK’s only overnight safari lodge where the sounds and animals of the jungle can be found. Now in Taiwan, they have opened a 164 room safari resort where rhinos, zebra and giraffes roam freely.

The Far East (except Thailand because of continued civil unrest) is seeing growth in Brits visiting them. Vietnam and Japan have seen more visitors and Singapore is about to launch a large campaign to attract us to visit them instead of just thinking of it as a place to change planes. Will Egypt and Turkey continue to see the rises in us visiting them as they have seen over the last two years?
And back home, the staycation (which also seems to be growing trend in the US as well) will result in destinations working harder to get us to visit them. Swansea, for example, has trained its bus conductors to answer tourism questions. Apparently conductors are now called “customer service hosts” and 17 of them on one route (No.4 from Morriston Hospital to Swansea Bay) are “Swansea Ambassadors.” This, according to the bus operator, now delivers the WOW factor!

I still haven’t made up my mind on where to go and what to do this Summer. It still seems so far away. What isn’t far away is the lawn and May means it needs cutting almost every week. Then maybe I will think of where to spend the rest of this long weekend.