UK holiday specialists have reported a surge in bookings made nearer departure and increased demand for holidays closer to home.

Panellists at a Travel Weekly domestic holidays debate said the recent hot weather had driven more last-minute sales than previous years.

They also said rising petrol prices were forcing holidaymakers to choose locations within an hour and a half’s car journey, compared with the traditional two-hour radius, and opt for cheaper rail or coach breaks.

Hoseasons operating director Pali Badwal said: “We are seeing reduced lead-in times for bookings probably because of the good weather. We are getting a bookings surge close to departure.

“Agents should be promoting breaks closer to home because customers don’t want to go farther than an hour and a half’s drive because of petrol prices.”

Graham Balmforth, national sales manager at Superbreak, said: “We have also found lead-in times are reducing and if hotels have got a good offer available people will book.”

He added: “Everyone thought we would have a fantastic time because of the royal wedding but it didn’t happen – people didn’t go to London immediately afterwards.”

Bill Lowe, head of travel at Park Travel in Merseyside, said: “The percentage of our customers requesting rail breaks has doubled this year. Previously, these customers would have driven and not asked for rail.”

The domestic sector is being boosted by reduced package holiday capacity in overseas destinations and by the value of a domestic break, which costs £300-£400 on average compared with £500-£600 for an overseas package, according to Bourne Leisure head of retail Allan Lambert.

He said: “We have still got opportunities for the family market this summer as bookings are a lot later. Consumers are spending more time making sure it’s the right decision. If they think they are spending well, they will commit straightaway.”

Badwal agreed: “They want to know that they are getting true value for money.”

Shearings commercial director Caroline Brown said: “We are still seeing demand for breaks two hours’ drive away but there is a migration between coach and self-drive hotel breaks. They will take a coach to save money.”