Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Return Of The Package Holiday

Arguments there are as to who was responsible for the invention of the package holiday and arguments there are also as to the package holiday's place in today's tourism sun, but it shows little sign of being unpackaged. Quite the contrary in fact.

Mr. Thomas Cook didn't really invent the package holiday. It was a package excursion to Loughborough on Mr. George Stephenson's new-fangled steam contraption that he first offered in 1841 to a group of temperance sorts; not quite the same thing as a package holiday, therefore. Horizon Holidays can probably lay claim to having pioneered the package over a hundred years later.

It was the package holiday and pretty much exclusively the package holiday that gave rise to Mallorca's tourism boom. Oh that tour operators could wind the clock back to those golden days when there was no such thing as direct booking, no such thing (or very little thing) as the independent traveller, and no such airline entrepreneur as Stelios or Mick O'Leary.

The tour operators have spent the past roughly twenty years fighting a good fight in the name of the package holiday, while at the same time doing their own pandering to the independently minded. They have maintained a defence of the package holiday, rejected the claims that it was a thing of the past and have recently argued that its day has returned; not that it ever went away.

Reports over the winter that the package holiday was firmly back in favour carried the message that the package was enjoying a renaissance, but in fact the same thing has been said for several years. This time, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that the renaissance is genuine; the package holiday is well and truly back in fashion.

There are various reasons why the package holiday is flavour of the tourism month and season once more: it is a safer option; it is more diverse and so more sophisticated; it is cheaper or at least gives the impression of being cheaper because of its fixed-price nature. There is a lot to be said for these reasons. To take one, the safer option, one only has to cast one's mind back to when that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland went off in 2010 to appreciate that the package does have advantages; the poor buggers who had travelled independently and who were stranded in Mallorca were left in a right old pickle trying to sort out accommodation.

There are other reasons. One is the all-inclusive. Its onward march has come about partly because the tour operators needed to be able to say there was something new about the package holiday. And what better was there than a package holiday that really was a package: the whole package and nothing but the whole package. With holidaymakers attracted to the convenience of the all-inclusive, why would they then bother piecing together their own holiday and so suffering inconvenience in order to enjoy convenience? It didn't make a great deal of sense, even if there are still those who insist on seeking cheaper arrangements by travelling independently.

The latest Eurobarometer of tourism attitudes, a survey conducted annually on behalf of the European Commission, confirms the revival of the package holiday and supports findings by Spanish surveys of this revival in key tourist destinations, such as Mallorca. But other than this confirmation, the Eurobarometer reveals other findings, one of them being the fact that the all-inclusive package actually lost ground last year. The fall was only slight and the trend towards all-inclusive varied between tourists from different countries, but among the Germans, as an example, is was down by two percentage points.

This finding does not represent a reason for those who detest all-inclusive to jump for joy. But then there is a further finding in respect of "other types of package travel", i.e. those that are not all-inclusive. The increases were really very significant, just as significant as the falls in the purchasing of separate parts of the tourism package (those by independent travellers). Among the French, for instance, the increase was over 30%.

So yes, the package holiday is very much back in favour but, and contrary to expectation, it isn't the all-inclusive that is bringing it back into favour. This may just reflect what is on offer to tourists from different countries or it may reflect something else, namely that the tour operators haven't got it completely right and that, while holidaymakers are turning to the package holiday again, they are turning to the traditional one.

Any comments to please.

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