Nearly 20% fewer UK consumers will take a winter break this year than in 2009, although short breaks are experiencing a resurgence of popularity.

In a poll of more than 2,000 people taken by PricewaterhouseCoopers in December, around a fifth of respondents said they would forego a skiing or winter sun break to focus on paying off debts on credit cards, loans and overdrafts – the core priority for consumers this year.

However, short breaks are making a return in popularity, moving from eighth place last year to sixth place this year in the poll of priority spends.

PricewaterhouseCoopers leisure director David Trunkfield said: “This is consistent with travel trade expectations for 2010. This winter will be difficult, especially for ski operators.

“Skiing is perceived as a niche and luxury holiday, and decision-making will be affected by euro and swiss franc exchange rates. Winter breaks, which act as a second holiday, remain under pressure. Consumers are focused on paying back debt and saving for a main summer holiday.”

He added the poll revealed main holidays remain the second most popular spend for consumers, with 16% of all those questioned saying it will be their most important spend for this year.

Trunkfield said: “Early sentiment indicates that the travel trade expects summer 2010 to be broadly flat with 2009 – although there remains a concern about how some consumer groups will finance their main holiday, as average spend per family on an annual holiday now reaches into the thousands.”

“Last year we saw a big shift to late booking, due to uncertainty over job prospects. But this year there may be a switch back, as the lack of capacity last summer meant decent late deals were few and far between.

“Those consumers who left it too late might be tempted to book earlier especially if operators promote deals sooner rather than later.”

He also warned that some operators made a loss last year, leaving them struggling to find the money and bonds to pay for their ATOL licences and IATA accreditation, prompting further failures this year.