Holidays will play a vital role in lifting the economy this year,  according to an ABTA Holiday Value Report out today.

The survey showed 66% of the UK enjoyed a big emotional high from a summer holiday and nearly 50% believe the break from routine is a vital way of escaping the current economic downturn. Brits also rate the value of summer holidays three times higher than pay rises.

Encouragingly for the trade, the survey showed 68% of the public are prepared to up their budget or spend the same as last year. Contrary to fears of a late booking trend, it showed only 9% of people intend to leave their bookings until the last minute.

However, holidaymakers will still look for the best deals, with 50% prepared to spend up to £500 on flights and accommodation and only 8% prepared to pay more than £1,200. The average spend this year will be £632 – just over £2,500 for a family of four. The holiday also remains the most prized annual purchase at 37% compared to its nearest contender of a new car at 15%.

The results are from a OnePoll survey of 2,447 adults commissioned between December 24, 2008, and January 5, 2009.

Psychotherapist and life coach Christine Webber, who developed the survey for ABTA, said having a holiday to look forward to – “sunticipation” – would help lift the economic gloom.

She said: “Having something to look forward to like a holiday often helps us focus more on current tasks. Booking a holiday gives us an emotional lift.”

“The nation is suffering from collective stress at the moment and holidays are one way of keeping the UK on an even keel. Eveyone has to think long and hard about what they spend but holidays are still firmly in the family budget,” she added.

Almost 50% of respondents said the opportunity to relax on holiday was the most important element of a break. This was deemed more important than food, culture, sunbathing and gaining life experiences.

So far this year ABTA members have reported positive levels of holiday bookings and footfall. Egypt, Turkey and long-haul destinations such as Orlando and cruises are selling well.

ABTA head of communications Casia Zajac said: “Holidays are important to people in different ways but the research is clear that holidays are a vital part of people’s year and still will be this year despite the economic downturn.”