Long-haul leisure travel could be the big loser if the price of oil stays high and the UK economy turns down, warns the head of a major group of travel agencies.

Advantage Travel Centres chief executive John McEwan said today: “I worry about long-haul travel. We are getting into the realms of it being unaffordable for a section of the market.

“The economic environment is putting pressure on middle income families and a lot of people are going to see a material reduction in their income.” McEwan was speaking at a Barclays travel briefing in London.

Monarch Airlines chief executive Peter Brown agreed, saying: “Our long-haul charter customers are asking whether they can pass on hundreds of pounds in fuel surcharges to customers and some are saying no.”

Brown warned airlines could react to a downturn in long-haul demand by increasing capacity on short-haul routes to the sun. He said charter carriers would switch some of their bigger, wide-body aircraft normally used on long routes to shorter European flights.

“Charter airlines will keep their wide-body aircraft flying, since they are the most expensive, and move some on to short-haul routes,” he said. “It will just shift the problem by increasing short-haul capacity.”

Trailfinders managing director Tony Russell said: “The market has been falling away since May. The fuel surcharges are having an effect.”

McEwan identified two early trends among holidaymakers already booking with travel agents for next year. He said: “There is a focus on more affordable, non-euro destinations such as Turkey and a shift to 10-11 night holidays where before people might buy 14 nights.”