New Year, new travel confidence: Dusting off those travel wings

Note to editors: Details on methodology and data sources to be found in the appendix.

There is no question that 2020 was an extraordinary year in so many ways, with family travel one of the hardest hit sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel plans were turned topsy-turvy throughout the year and families could only cross their fingers and dream of what might be in 2021.

The arrival of the first approved vaccine provided some much-needed good news at the end of 2020 and has had a positive impact on people’s travel aspirations for 2021 Even during the January lockdown, the indomitable globe-trotting spirit has risen to the fore once again and 66% of British parents say they are confident that they will be able to go on a family holiday this year, with 22% already planning their next adventure(1).

The vast majority of British families (69%) confirm that they will have the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly if it is a requirement for their holiday destination, with only 5% saying they would not consider it1. However, many of those questioned call on the government to be clearer and more committed with information and timelines, so they could be more confident in arranging their trip. They would also appreciate holiday companies providing more flexible cancellation policies as uncertainties surrounding the pandemic remain.

However, the promising news from the vaccine rollout has encouraged 78% of British families to say they do believe they will be able to take a holiday in the UK in 2021 and 64% are even expecting to be able to go on a family trip abroad during the year(1).

Looking at the wider picture, these happy thoughts inspire some very positive emotions as more than half of European families (51%) surveyed feel excited, full ofanticipation and cautiously optimistic about the prospect of finally taking a family holiday in 2021 again, with the Germans (56%), French (53%) and the Brits (52%) leading the rush.

However, almost half (45%) of them are still cautious of the possibility of travelling or admit to feeling rather scared of the uncertainties around how to keep safe. Spanish families on 57% express the highest degree of concern, compared with UK families on 42%, while German families are the most optimistic and least anxious on 40%.

The motivation behind the excitement to get away again can be clearly seen in the effect that not travelling or travelling less frequently in 2020 has had on families, as 70% of European parents declare that this has had a significant impact on their family life and their family’s mental health. On 73%, both British and German parents feel the situation has certainly left its mark on their family’s wellbeing, while 65% of French parents note the same.

Overall, the vast majority of European parents (72%) feel strongly that their children have suffered as a result of this change to their travel habits. This is split between 29% who say their offspring are unhappy that they couldn’t travel abroad, 22% who believe that they have lost their spirit for exploration over this time and 21% admitting that their kids experienced cabin fever because of the restrictions.

However, more than a quarter (27%) feel differently, saying that, as long as they travelled as a family, it was less important where they went. A few lucky families (9%) did manage to explore a new destination together.

There are marked variations between the nationalities this time. British families seem to find the constraints more frustrating than the average, with 80% acknowledging that their children have suffered, compared with 55% of the French, who are quite the outliers with this result. Only a lucky 7% of British families were able to try a new destination in 2020.

European parents express two main concerns when it comes to the impact that the inability to get away has had on their children - not being able to explore new places (43%) and not being able to spend quality time away with the family (37%).

The UK’s figure for the first is higher than the pan-European average once again on 46% but the second concern, expressed by 39%, is the absence of opportunity to learn about different languages and cultures, while an overall lack of adventure in their lives is mentioned by 32%.

Around 90% of parents internationally agree that a travel experience is more valuable to their child than any material gift. It is therefore not surprising that, for many families, the desire for travel has grown considerably over the past year. Almost a third (32%) confirm that the thought of going to wherever they desire is much stronger now, with another 27% wanting to spend more of their holidays with family and friends.

The British in particular echo this sentiment with 37% saying they now appreciate the freedom to travel more highly, second only to Spain on 39%. More holidays with friends and family are also important (30%), as is the wish to see more of the world, both in our own country abroad (25%).

Interestingly, just under 30% of French families say they experienced no change in their attitude towards travel, despite the limitations imposed during the year, as they have always felt enthusiastic about it.

Dream a little dream of new discoveries

Many of us have had plenty of opportunity to daydream away the hours during recent months and future travel plans are high on the list of priorities.

For the European parents included in the survey, meeting friends and family again is at the heart of their fantasies when it comes to travel planning, taking a 22% share of the vote, but individual countries have differing opinions. More than 30% of French families agree that this is by far the most important aspect but, for the Germans, swimming in the ocean and feeling the sand under their feet takes the top spot on 31%.

For the more adventurous Brits and Italians it is going away and discovering new places (20% and 22% respectively) while, in Spain, finding a space large enough for the whole family and meeting friends and family again share first place on 20% each.

Niagara Falls on top of UK family’s adventure list

The UK family’s Landmark Bucket list confirms their wish to get away and discover new pIaces, with impressive natural and manmade landmarks in the USA, Europe, North Africa, Asia and Australia in the top 10.

The first three are all in the USA with Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon topping the poll, each on more than 20%. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is the highest ranked European target, alongside the Colosseum in Rome and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. But the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and Great Sphinx in Egypt and the Sydney Opera House are also very much in the mix, as the Brits love to travel far and wide.

When turning dreams into reality, expectations for the 2021 family getaway are high and the top priority is understandably the chance to relax and destress after a challenging year, taking almost half the vote across the board.  

In the UK, creating new memories together runs a close second (43%) while, for the Spanish, it is wanting to live in the moment (44%). German families are out for a good time, with 37% opting for having the most fun possible together after missing out on that last year.

This does not mean throwing all caution to the wind though as common sense prevails when it comes to the new essentials to pack for family trips. This time last year, it was all about having enough supplies of English tea and coffee or umbrellas in the British family suitcase. For 2021 though, it is most definitely face masks and hand sanitisers alongside the shorts and sunscreen for more than half of all European families (58% and 55% espectively). This is particularly true for the very sensible Spanish, with almost three-quarters packing face coverings and only 5% saying that they won’t be packing anything different to usual.

Figures for the UK are slightly lower with both face masks and hand sanitisers for the careful 54%. The Germans are bucking the trend when it comes to hand sanitisers which will be packed by only 46%.

Pursuing the dream

So, after all the daydreaming and sifting through ideas, how do Europeans actually decide where to go?

For more than 40% of families, the decision is clearly a joint one as they discuss their options and agree as a family, particularly in Italy (47%) and Germany (46%), although the British (38%) and French (37%) would seem to be slightly less democratic. Looking for the best argains is in second place for the Italians (34%), the UK (33%) and the French (30%).

One in four parents (24%) like to take their kids to places where they themselves created fond holiday memories together, which is particularly true for German families (29%) as well as the UK and Spanish (25%). For a higher 30% of the Spanish though, it is wanting to go somewhere new and start afresh.

Only 6% of French families are plucky enough to trust their kids entirely to decide where to go, although 12% of the British show themselves to be more free-spirited by letting their offspring choose.

Interestingly, the COVID-19 situation in their family’s favourite countries does not seem to have an impact on the decision to travel there again in 2021, with 65% of families surveyed stating they will visit their all-time favourite country again, assuming they can travel wherever they want to in 2021. This is particularly true for 80% of Italians, although as many as 30% of the Spanish are yet to make up their minds. Only 22% of Brits still have to decide while 64% want to take a trip back to where they lost their holidaying-heart in 2021 as well.

The persistence of the eternal British love-story with Spain also reflects this statement, with the southern European country voted as the outbound travel destination that British families plan to visit for their very first trip abroad when restrictions lift in 2021.

Overall, most UK families have decided to stay close to home with the USA the only non-European destination in the list at No 5.

France is in second place followed by the sunshine hotspots of Italy and Greece, while Norway and Denmark offer a more unusual alternative at Nos 9 and 10.

“We’re all going on a summer holiday” is going to be the obvious soundtrack to this year’s travel, as the big getaway is on. More than half of UK families (53%) are opting for a summer break. A quarter (23%) will take the opportunity of a week away over the half-term holidays and 17% are already planning to be away over next Christmas and New Year.

The two-week break for Easter chosen by 18% presents the chance of both some late-season skiing or spring sunshine. Other religious holidays such as Ramadan, Hanukkah and Diwali (11%) also offer the option of wider family gatherings.

A lucky 15% will be travelling to celebrate a family birthday or anniversary.

Relax and recharge

When thinking about what new things parents want to do with their youngsters on their holidays in 2021, there is a difference of opinion across the nations. For most, it is visiting a new country but to varying degrees, with the Italians the most enthusiastic on 52%, while only 39% of the Brits think this significant.

For the Spanish, it is about learning a new skill such as diving or sailing while on holiday (44%) and again the UK is less eager on 32% but another 26% are committed to trying a new mode of transport, perhaps a road trip or a train ride.

Sparking kids’ imagination and widening their horizons is all part of the holiday experience so the fact that so many children (41%) are most looking forward to exploring new places is good news. This is particularly true for Spanish (50%) and Italian children (49%), although British kids are rather more reticent (38%).

For them, spending time together as a family is their first priority (41%) but also easing up on the usual daily routine by staying up later and enjoying more treats such as ice-cream (35%). The pool at the holiday accommodation has almost equal importance (32%) while the general outdoor space at the property, including the garden and amenities such as barbeques and hot tubs is something to look forward to for 29% of children. Trying new food is key for one in four UK youngsters too.

Having more family time is also most important for 44% of the French and the German offspring.

Many parents notice a marked change in their children’s behaviour when on a family trip together, with 32% saying they are more relaxed than at home, 28% confirming that the new environment turns them into little explorers and 27% acknowledging that it brings out their sense of adventure and courage.  

British kids echo these sentiments, but it would seem that German and Spanish children are more courageous in their love of exploring (34% and 31% respectively) while the main improvement for Spanish families is the fact that the children are less moody (38%) than in the daily routine.

Spending time together on a family holiday has many benefits but achieving something together makes the holiday perfect. Activities such as climbing a mountain, building sandcastles or going on a long bike ride are chosen as the main component for an ideal family holiday by almost a quarter (23%) of families. This is particularly true for 30% of the Spanish and 28% of the French, although the Brits on 18% are not so sure. For them, it is the kids’ excitement when they enter and explore the holiday home (21%) while, for the Italians it is exploring the new surroundings (24%).

Despite cooking together so much during the long lockdown, 12% of Brits are looking forward to doing exactly that to contribute to an ideal holiday.

Fun Facts

2 weeks switch-off before take-off

Are holidays one of the most wonderful times of the year? Well, the fact that almost 40% of all European holidaymakers mentally “switch off” work more than two weeks before they go on their actual trip is a pretty strong hint that they are indeed.

This is particularly true for the French as more than half (51%) make the most of their holiday by starting to dream themselves away more than two weeks early, whereas “only” 29% of the British admit to this.

Just 6% are conscientious enough to hold the thought of sunbathing at the beach until the day before they leave.

British family pre-holiday-traditions

And when the time has finally come and the night before the trip is here, British families cultivate an array of individual and occasionally interesting traditions to get themselves into the holiday groove.

Get a taste for the destination

With 23% of British children being excited to try local dishes while away, these are the favourite dishes local families recommend to visiting families to help them enjoy the best possible taste experience during their stay?

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