Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Holidaymakers create new North-South divide

The Angel of the North celebrates the news

Whisper it quietly among the home counties and the capital but new figures from Visit England, the national tourist board, show something of a northern uprising taking place among UK holidaymakers.

According to the Great Britain Tourism Survey, Visit England’s regular research into our habits as holidaymakers, there is a very stark north-south divide developing, one where the north is proving considerably more popular than the south.

Trips to the North West (+9%), North East (+24%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (+14%) collectively increased an impressive 47% in the first quarter of this year whereas visits to the South East (-15%), South West (+9%) and London (- 11%) collectively were in negative territory - 17%.

Without wanting to inflame regional stereotypes it appears the public no longer thinks it is grim up north as those domestic visits occurred during the meat of winter – January to March – at a time when snow and ice lingered the longest and after the extended festive holiday season had ended.

Unhelpfully, Visit England does not give any reason for the increases, or for that matter, particularly in the case of London and the South East, the decreases, but we can speculate that the economic squeeze on household incomes has had some part to play with us preferring to stay at home even if it won’t have dictated our final destinations.

That said, the economic situation has not been as bad as to stop us travelling altogether as the survey also reveals that domestic overnight trips in Great Britain were up 5 per cent on last year, so we are still travelling and we are, it seems, attracted to the north.

As a caveat to that, before the north rises up to ridicule its friends in the south, figures based on just three months are far from a trend, so there is no need for the south to start soul searching just yet.

However, the boost in business during a traditionally quiet time will have been worth millions of extra pounds to northern economies providing a financial fillip to hundreds of rural and coastal businesses and communities that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.

This week marks the start of the UK summer holiday season, when the schools break up and we look forward to a week or two away. The figures for this period will make interesting reading when they finally appear but for now the north has definitely scored an early victory in the battle for our holiday spending money, to use a sporting analogy, it is one-nil up, but there is still a long way to go before it can be crowned champion.

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