Polarised Britain: How is it reflected in holiday-taking behaviour?

By Jon Young

16 May 2014

Recent reports by such diverse organisations as Oxfam and the Resolution Foundation have drawn attention to economic and social differentiation emerging in Britain. The causes are varied and complex – everything from the near collapse of the global banking system to industrial automation and industrial growth in the developing world. The outcomes, however, are clear. British society is becoming more, not less, divided.

BDRC’s 2014 Holiday Trends data has offered some insight on how much ‘polarised Britain’ exists in holiday-taking behaviour. The most newsworthy finding from Holiday Trends 2014 was the dramatic fall in intentions to take a holiday in the UK, although given that the survey was conducted in the wettest January for 250 years this may come as no surprise. However, the most interesting outcome was the extent to which C2DEs (the less well-off) are significantly less likely to be ‘seriously considering’ a main holiday of 7 days or more in 2014 (at 58%) than ABC1s (the more well-off) at 72%. This represents a shift from previous years when, although ABC1s were more likely than C2DEs to take longer, more exotic or more frequent holidays, there was minimal difference in the proportions taking any holidays at all. Is this evidence of a widening gap? Predicted holiday spending suggests that it is. 80% of ABC1s expect to spend as much/more than they spent last year vs 70% of C2DEs, another difference that has not been apparent historically.

Aside from intentions to take a holiday the study also noted some differences in marketing influences on holiday taking across social grades. ABC1s are more likely to be influenced by websites, social media, review sites, PR and guidebooks. C2DEs are more heavily influenced by traditional sources such as travel agents and brochures/leaflets (particularly from a travel agent).

And what of the geographic divide? Despite the drop in planned staycations, London has bucked this trend and for the second consecutive year, intended holidays to London have increased. This could be a consequence of poor January weather reducing the appeal of the UK’s weather-dependent destinations such as the Scottish Highlands and the South West (where bookings have declined). Maybe the popularity of London’s indoor attractions (2013 was a record-breaking year for many of the capital’s cultural venues) and the halo effect of the Olympics have also had an effect. Or perhaps London’s growing wealth and economic pull for migrants and investors is also translating into greater appeal for holiday makers.

Despite the gloomy predictions, there is some cause for optimism for the rest of the UK. For one, we are unlikely to experience a repeat of the January downpours, so the negativity around a UK staycation should evaporate along with the rainfall. Furthermore, there are lots of reasons to stay in the UK this year: the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and Homecoming 2014 mark an exciting year for Scotland, the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire, Cambridge and (of course!) London, and there are numerous activities planned for the 250th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

The findings from Holiday Trends 2014 lend weight to the idea of a ‘polarised Britain’ but it will not be clear until 2015 whether this becomes a longer term trend. Reports in Britain this year of real improvements in economic confidence may well be reflected in changes in holiday behaviour. High holiday intentions across all social grades are essential to ensure a strong domestic and overseas holiday market, so for the sake of our industry, let’s hope 2014 is a one off.

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