Holidays - the hard facts

Is the British seaside holiday dying? Towards the end of the 1930s around 15 million people were going on holiday to the seaside. These figures show holiday tourism in Britain, by UK citizens, in the post-war years.

Numbers of holiday makers

These figures show that the best ever years for the British seaside holiday were the early to mid seventies when just over 40 million people had a holiday in the UK. In the fifties and sixties, more and more people were going away on holiday in the UK until the peak was reached.

Throughout this period, the number of Britons holidaying abroad increased at a dramatic rate. The lure of guaranteed sunshine and cheap package holidays decimated the traditional British seaside holiday. The worst ever year was in 1987. During the so called "Costa del Dole" days of the eighties many boarding houses switched to offering accommodation to the unemployed instead of families on holiday.

In spite of this the numbers alone still show a reasonable picture. After all, even in 1987 more people were going on holiday in the UK than in the early fifties. However, the raw figures tell only part of the story. Have a look at the annual expenditure on tourism. These figures have been adjusted for inflation.

Holiday Expenditure

These figures show that expenditure on UK holidays, in real terms, has remained fairly constant throughout the post-war years. There was, once again, a peak around the early to mid seventies. The corresponding graph for holidays abroad show that over this period most of the money went abroad. Although total holiday makers continued to increase over this period, the more affluent always went further a field. Holiday expenditure in the UK has thus remained fairly stagnant. Generally, as society becomes more affluent, more money is spent on tourism out of proportion to general increases in people's incomes. This is clearly shown be the amounts spent on foreign tourism.

Holiday accommodation

Where did people stay? Generally, there was in increase in tourism in the West Country (Devon and Cornwall) throughout the sixties and seventies. The South was also favoured. It is difficult to be more precise, because the tourism regions were changed several times, thus making comparisons with earlier periods difficult. By the sixties though, the South-West was the most popular region.

From the fifties to the seventies, the type of holiday accommodation and with it the style of holidaymaking changed. This graph shows that although hotel and guest house accommodation remained the most popular form of holidaymaking, the nature of that accommodation changed. In the fifties, the unlicensed guest house or hotel was the most common type. In the early fifties just under 30% of people stayed in an unlicensed hotel or guest house. By the end of the seventies this had declined to around 8%. At the same time hotels with a licence to serve alcohol became more common. Hotel accommodation declined in importance in total over the period, but it was still the most popular type of accommodation in 1980.

Perhaps the most significant change in holiday habits has been the growth of self-catering holidays - whether camping/caravanning or in rented accommodation. All show increases over the thirty years from 1950 to 1980. By the end of the period, self-catering in general was more popular than serviced accommodation. Caravanning showed the largest growth. Unfortunately, the figures do not distinguish between static caravans in a caravan park and those towed behind a car. Figures for Devon show a rise in static caravans in the fifties and sixties, but caravans towed by a car becoming much more important in the late sixties and early seventies. Possibly a result of cheaper caravans becoming more widely available. (See Tents and caravans)

Accommodation in holiday camps has kept a steady percentage throughout the period, showing a modest rise.

Holiday Transport

How did people get to their destination? These figures show that although rail was still the most popular form of travel in the early fifties, its use declined sharply in the late fifties and sixties. As car ownership became more widespread, the car quickly became the most popular way of getting away. Traffic jams became a common feature of a sixties' holiday. Bus or coach travel was also popular in the early fifties. It did decline, but has faired better than rail. I expect the number of coach tours organised mainly for older people has kept the figures up.

Is the British seaside holiday dying? The figures show that a holiday by the sea in the UK is still popular, but UK resorts are unable to get people to spend money there. It is quite common now for people to go abroad for their main holiday, but to spend a few days in the UK on a mini-break.

All of the graphs in this page are based on statistics taken from the British Tourist Authority Digest of Tourist statistics. In these figures, a holiday is defined as a stay of four or more nights away from home.