The number of UK holidaymakers travelling independently in Spain overtook the number of those wanting package deals for the first time between 2004 and 2006, new research from Mintel has found.

Independently booked travel rose from 48% to an estimated 59% of all holidays to Spain between 2004 and 2006, according to the survey of more than 2,000 consumers.

When Mintel asked people about their last holiday to Spain, 40% said they booked packages through agents last year, a fall from 54% in 2000.

Mintel found that the overall volume of Spanish holidays taken by UK consumers returned to growth in 2006, following a slight decline in 2004/05, as Spain lost market share to cheaper non-euro destinations such as Turkey, Eastern Europe and Egypt.

Brits made an estimated 12.2 million leisure trips to Spain in 2006, spending £5.2 billion (excluding air travel). These figures are projected to reach 12.5 million and £5.4 billion respectively this year.

However, Mintel said there would always be opportunities for niche operators able to make consumers feel they received extra value. This might include providing expert knowledge and advice on the ground, the research firm said.

Mintel senior travel analyst Richard Cope, said: “Agents are struggling in Spain. People are putting together high-end deals, such as packages in Andalusia and on the north coast.”

More innovative agents seeking to keep a hold on the Spanish market are appealing to older holidaymakers and making their packages more diverse, such as twin-centres that offer a city break and a beach holiday.

High-end packages, in locations away from beach resorts, were appealing to older travellers, Cope said.

Conversely, the country’s appeal with the younger market was falling. In 2005, Spain was most popular among 20 to 24-year-olds. This group was now the least likely to travel to the country, the report says.