Package holidays continue to dominate the overseas UK holiday market despite the emergence of other types of travel, new Abta research shows.

Half of overseas holidays people are packages – a figure that has held steady for five years.

However, the type of trip, destination and how people spend their leisure time away has changed significantly, according to a study examining people’s travel habits over the last four decades.

Travel companies have responded to changing consumer preferences by offering arrangements that include tailor made trips, off the beaten track tours, adventure holidays, river and ocean cruises, well-being breaks and all-inclusives.

Holidaymakers can also personalise their package by upgrading transfers, choosing their own room and booking a specific sun lounger.

Abta members say customers often want to be the first to visit a destination or particular resort, whereas in the 1970s many people chose a holiday based on where their friends or family had been.

Similarly, a package holiday was often sold with the promise of a ‘home-from-home’ – the UK but with better weather – but many people are now keen to experience the best of the local culture.

New Abta analysis of the latest International Passenger Survey air travel figures made by holidaymakers also shows the diversification of destinations people are visiting.

While there is still a strong market for traditional package holiday destinations – almost 25 million visits were made to Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta combined last year, a big increase from just over 13 million in 1994 – today’s holidaymakers are venturing further afield.

UK visits to Mexico in 1994 stood at 18,778 whereas visits were up by 3500% last year to 676,734 – more than the number of visits to Malta (559,677).

Increased airline capacity and more fuel-efficient aircraft have put long-haul trips within reach of more UK travellers.

Closer to home, destinations that have seen an increase in popularity include Bulgaria and Croatia. Trips to Bulgaria have doubled since 1994. The eastern European country is set to continue to raise its share of visitors, with bookings for this summer up 16% on last year.

The Balearics, Italian Riviera, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Germany were found to be the most booked destinations when package holidays first became popular.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The UK continues to be a nation in love with the foreign holiday as tens of millions of people head abroad each year, with package holidays still dominating a large proportion of the travel market.

“But how we’re holidaying now is quite different compared to the package breaks of the 1970s.

“Holidaymakers’ tastes are continually evolving, and the travel industry is adapting to the changing demands of customers; whether you want a two week cruise around the Caribbean, a cultural city break to Cadiz, a tailor-made trip to Mexico or seven days in the Costa del Sol, all of these options can be provided via a package holiday.

“With the introduction of the new Package Travel Regulations last year, more travel arrangements this summer are likely to be package holidays – offering customers the best form of protection.”

Examples from Abta members of customers over the years on their package holidays:

• While staying in a high-end hotel in Italy one guest mistook prosciutto for raw bacon at the buffet and called their travel agent to complain.
• A customer who arrived for a holiday to Spain called their travel rep on the emergency number in the middle of the night to complain that their hotel had too many Spanish people, and later in the holiday complained the restaurants were also ‘too Spanish’.
• One family brought an entire suitcase filled with food on their self-catering trip, only to be upgraded to half board, however they still insisted on flying back with all of their food.
• One agent recalls when hotels used to provide curtain rails in rooms for young couples, to protect their modesty (and to adhere to their parents’ wishes).
• Holidaymakers were also relaxed about sun protection, with many using olive oil to ensure they returned with a good tan.