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As holiday goers continue to face unprecedented disruption to travel, and with their budgets squeezed by ongoing inflation, what will the main impacts be in the face of changing consumer demands in travel? Our recent research indicates that the domestic travel market is a growing sector and a popular choice for Brits, with spending estimated to reach £15.7 billion this year, 9% higher than the pre-pandemic level. In this blog we examine 3 consumer travel trends, and how they are affecting the UK travel market.

1. Child’s play key factor for holiday centres and parks

Summer holidays are usually a great time for parents to bond with their children. The majority of parents look for physical play/sporting activities for their kids when taking a holiday centre/park break, and more than a third of all family holidaymakers say somewhere with freedom for their children to play outside and explore is an important holiday factor. This shows that active play is seen as a highly important factor by family visitors, and why children’s play activities are a big focus of investment by park operators. At the same time, a demographic shift in the family population towards “tweens” and teens and away from younger children, could create new opportunities for parks which choose to specialise in an older family market, for example those offering a focus on adrenaline/adventure activities, as well as social/entertainment activities, aimed at teenagers.

Photo source: Haven Leisure. Haven opened the UK’s largest Adventure Village at its Thorpe Park site in summer 2022, targeting the “youngest daredevils” with sports and games.

In an age when many children explore their local areas far less than previous generations did, and concerns over childhood obesity and mental health are rising, parents look increasingly to holiday spaces to provide an experience of ‘safe freedom’ and active discovery. These parental priorities are also driven by rising concern over the amount of time kids spend indoors looking at screens, a trend exacerbated by COVID-19. 

2. Ditch planes for trains as eco-friendly alternatives

Future interest in holidays by rail is high, with six in ten adults considering taking a train to get to a holiday destination in the UK. Environmental considerations in particular are likely to exert a growing influence on travel choices in the coming years. Nearly half of younger consumers (Gen Z/Millennials) who’ve flown in the past five years feel guilty about the environmental impact of their trips, and almost half of those who would consider taking the train in future say they are motivated to increase their rail usage specifically in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

Photo source: trainline. Mintel research shows more than a third of those who would consider travelling by train on holiday in future are interested in buying a domestic rail pass offering unlimited train travel for a holiday within the UK.

It is more likely that travellers will shift towards a ‘flexitarian flying’ approach, swapping planes for trains on at least some of their journeys rather than adopting a strict “no-fly” approach. The analogy here is with ‘flexitarian’ diets. An increasing proportion of consumers (particularly younger generations) are adopting plant-based or meat-free habits more often – but not necessarily all of the time. Just as concepts like ‘meat-free Mondays’ or ‘Veganuary’ have proved effective in creating behavioural changes using social media, similar ‘flight-free’ initiatives and pledges could be marketed by rail operators, holiday brands and tourism boards, along with promotions and special offers.

3. Camping – a new favourite for Brits

Over one in five adults have been camping since the start of COVID-19. This includes roughly 4.5 million ‘newcomers’ who took their first-ever camping or caravanning holiday during the pandemic. Even though the rising cost-of-living crisis is likely to dampen consumer spending on holidays, camping and caravanning holds the advantage of being seen as an affordable holiday due to ‘low cost’ being seen as the leading attraction for consumers.

Photo source: Getty Images. Mintel research shows that pet-friendly campsites are growing in popularity, becoming a growing selling point in recent years across the holiday spectrum, including rental property and hotels.

Activities and experiences have been a growing area in the travel industry over recent years. Over a third of campers and caravanners are more likely to choose a site that offers live entertainment such as music and open-air theatre. Nature and sporting activities have become higher priorities during the pandemic – some camping and caravanning customers would be encouraged to choose a site that offered nature-spotting tours and stargazing tours, respectively. A key opportunity for the domestic camping and caravanning sector will be to retain these new customers once recovery in overseas travel gathers pace. Further investment and premiumisation of accommodation and site offerings, along with family-focused activities and experiences, will play a key role here.

What we think

Many families missed out on important family celebrations during COVID-19 – due to lockdowns and social restrictions, and therefore the holiday market is likely to prove fairly resilient as consumers continue to catch up on missed opportunities. A new wave of corporate activity in UK holiday parks reflects optimism that the staycation trend is here to stay, and will lead to further investment in accommodation and family-focused experiences. As the cost of living crisis continues to leave a damaging blow on real incomes, brands would need to effectively communicate their value for money credentials, in order to convince hard pressed consumers to part with their cash.