July 31, 2009 / 5:01 PM / 8 years ago

Bad weather may drive UK "staycationers" abroad

<p>Raindrops are seen on a beach shelter in Skegness, eastern England July 29, 2009.Darren Staples</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Miserable summer weather and signs the economic slump may be bottoming out have led Britons to start looking at overseas holidays again as they ditch cheap but wet "staycations."

Three months ago, when the downturn was at its worst and the forecasts were for a hot British summer, all the talk was of holidaymakers staying at home for their vacations, saving money and enjoying a rare spot of British sunshine.

But industry experts say the tide looks to have turned.

"Staycations" were flavor of the month for a while, but with rain and clouds forecast for Britain in August -- the top holiday month -- people are doing what they can to get away.

"Members say things have started to pick up," said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for British travel association ABTA, referring to overseas holiday bookings.

"We expect a lot of people to book late," he said, with ABTA's network of 5,300 travel agencies hoping for a late surge in revenue.

"If you think about people's concerns about finances, like 'Is my job safe?', that does not really encourage people to book in advance. Now those concerns have eased a bit."

Sunny destinations such as Spain, Greece and Turkey are likely to be the winners in any late surge of bookings, after the Met Office, Britain's official weather forecaster, said the chances of seeing a hot and dry summer had faded.

"The weather in July (in Britain) has been consistently poor and it has helped bookings," said Bob Atkinson, a travel expert at travelsupermarket.com, a travel price comparison website.

"Over the past few weeks, bookings have probably jumped even further and we see a bigger increase in the share of sun-based destinations," he said, adding Spain's mainland and islands and Greece were among the most popular choices.

LATE SURGE IN SUMMER HOLIDAYS

But poor weather in Britain will not completely wash out domestic holidays, said Nick Dines of Travelodge, the budget hotel chain where 98 percent of guests are domestic travelers.

"British people are used to it (rain)," said Dines. "If you let the weather stop you from doing things in England, you'd never be able to do anything."

Bookings for July-August have increased by double digits, according to Travelodge, particularly in popular holiday spots like the Lake District, Cornwall, Brighton and Blackpool, where the company opened three new hotels last year.

Despite the late desire to flee abroad, bookings for overseas summer holidays are still down by about 10 percent this year, according to ABTA.

But with the expected late surge, Tipton believes the total value of this year's summer holiday bookings will still reach 23 billion pounds ($38 billion), level with last year. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Luke Baker)

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