Trends & Features

The great outdoors

Pack away your buckets and spades. More and more people are shunning a week of tanning for a week of sporting activity and adventure. John Bensalhia looks at the rise in popularity of outdoor holidays

Happy holidays, people. At the time of writing, I can only wish this for next year, as the nights are getting shorter and the days are getting colder. It’s getting to that point where summer seems so out of reach that it’s like a mirage of an ice-cold beer in a desert.

Maybe that’s why people are getting ready for their 2010 holidays already, in order to take their minds off depressing weather and the prospect of never-ending Strictly Come Dancing on Saturdays. You may think that the traditional holiday of sun, sea and sangria is still high on people’s lists, but as a matter of fact, people’s choices have started to diversify, if some recent statistics are anything to go by.

More people are choosing to remain in the UK rather than go abroad, and what’s more, they’re plumping for activity holidays that involve a little more than reclining on a sun lounger. People are also less choosy about the sort of accommodation they want for these holidays. Research conducted by the Outdoor Industries Association suggests that this sector is more resilient in times of recession. A survey that polled the opinions of 3,500 UK outdoor consumers confirmed this.

The OIA revealed that 49 per cent of those surveyed said that money was a key reason as to why they preferred a British outdoor break to an overseas one. The most popular outdoor activities were found to be walking (51 per cent), camping (21 per cent), road cycling (14 per cent), long distance hiking (11 per cent) and mountain biking (10 per cent).

In addition, the good old-fashioned tent has made a bigger comeback than Doctor Who and Top Gear combined. Yes, camping has become even more popular as millions attempt to cut down on more extravagant surroundings. Retailers, including Tesco Direct, have announced that camping paraphernalia sales have grown significantly. Whether it’s the sleeping bag, picnic hamper or gas stove, sales have risen by 40 per cent.

Not only that, but people are also choosing the humble caravan as a temporary abode. Ruth Walmsley of The Camping And Caravanning Club comments: “It’s a trend we expect to continue. We’ve noticed that the types of people using our club sites has changed. Mostly, it used to be over-60s who would go camping, but now the vast majority are in their late 40s, joining to get their families on camping holidays.”

Chris Hilton, head of brand at Eurocamp, has suggested a number of possible reasons as to why more people are choosing this line of accommodation. One reason is that it is undoubtedly a cheaper alternative to the average overseas holiday. He also added that: “People are becoming increasingly eco-conscious about their travel and their impact on the environment, and are choosing places close to home on that basis.”

Why are these sorts of holiday becoming more popular? One suggestion is that people’s expectations of holidays have changed. No longer content with stuffing their faces full of paella, swilling cocktails and partying until the sun comes up, people want to experience what life has to offer while keeping fit. TUI Travel noted these trends, saying that it has significantly shifted from: “Lying on beaches and doing absolutely nothing”.
Lynsey Devon, TUI Travel’s activity sector PR manager, said that people now want to: “Go away, have an experience and then come back and tell everybody about it. They are now far more interested in trying something out, maybe doing something adventurous like going on a trek or skiing.”

Indeed, skiing holidays are becoming notably more popular. In 2006 the Ski Club of Great Britain conducted an annual analysis of snowsports and found that the market had risen by 3.3 per cent in the past year. The report said that 1.27million British people travelled abroad to ski. Marketing manager, Fiona Sweetman, says: “The increased popularity of skiing and boarding on UK real and dry slopes, coupled with more people than ever before travelling overseas, means that the snowsports market is looking really healthy.”

Similar sentiments come from Bethany Garner, a spokesperson for the Ski Club of Great Britain. Garner said that the sport was becoming more popular across Europe. She added that skiing attracts a wide range of people, who enjoy both keeping fit and the stunning scenery that they could admire.

Additional research shows that British people are becoming more adventurous with their holiday choices – literally. While studies reveal that fewer holidaymakers were going abroad for holidays (a drop from 36 per cent in 2002 to 31 per cent in 2009), more people were going on exploration and adventure holidays (7.5million in 2002 went up to 8.7million in 2009).

More specifically, a growing number of older people are choosing to go on adventure holidays. According to Saga magazine, as people’s life expectancies grow, their demands for adventure holidays are rising. Spokesperson, Paul Green, explained that rather than “wanting a bit of sun” older people wanted to explore “different cultures and activities they might not have taken part in on the beach.”

A significant point to make is that older people wish to stay fit and healthy for as long as they can, and indeed, younger people want this too – hence the trend for growing numbers of sporting holidays. The Association Of Independent Tour Operators has also noted this growth in the amount of people going on sporting holidays. Chairman of the association, Derek Moore, says that: “People are much more aware of health issues and the fact that our sedentary daily lives leave us open to potential heart attack and stroke problems in later life.”

Various other factors have played a part in these types of holidays growing in popularity. Trekking holidays, for example, have seen a jump in numbers, thanks to growing media coverage on TV.

Sporting holidays can also tie in with people’s hobbies and pastimes – golf fans can take their clubs on a tailor-made golfing holiday. Even better is a sailing holiday. Anyone who has already invested in a boat has the bonus of not having to shell out on expensive accommodation.

Maybe it’s that simple kind of life that makes this sort of holiday so appealing. Claire Wilson, managing director of The Adventure Company, says: “Another contributing factor to their rise in popularity is their simplistic nature, which makes them relatively cheap holidays.”

And there’s the rub. Rather than shell out on swanky apartments or pricey tours, there are no hidden extras on these types of holiday. What you see is very much what you get with the basic activities and meals, and coming so soon after the recession, with people having learnt the lessons of too much excess, this sort of holiday is a godsend.

A combination of value, fun and keeping fit, adventure and sport looks set to be the holiday choice for many for a long time to come. If you think that the average package holiday may be too much like the comedy TV show Benidorm, then adventure and sporting holidays may be for you.

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