Turkey bounces back as package holiday favourite

Turkey is outselling mainland Spain and the Canary islands as British holidaymakers return to the destination in big numbers.

Package holidays to Turkey are up 84% year on year, according to Thomas Cook – a growth being fuelled by families, who account for 61% of bookings. The country is also seeing the highest number of return customers of any of Thomas Cook’s destinations. Visitor numbers to Turkey nosedived in 2016 following a series of terrorist attacks and a failed coup, but following a recovery in 2017, it is the “standout destination for summer 2018”, said Thomas Cook managing director Chris Mottershead.

The top five most popular destinations in the Thomas Cook Holiday Report, released today, are Spain (which remains the most popular destination), Greece, Turkey, the USA and the Caribbean. But Spain is only in the top slot when the Balearic islands are included, and the gap between Greece and Turkey is closing.

Outside Europe, Egypt’s shattered tourism industry is looking its healthiest since 2011, with bookings up 89% year on year, despite the fact that there are still no direct flights to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, in accordance with current FCO advice. Instead, Thomas Cook flies to the resort of Hurgharda, and Marsa Alam, 300km further south.

Tunisia is also welcoming back tourists after the 2015 Sousse attacks effectively put an end to tourism in the country, a development that had devastating effect on its economy. Since the FCO lifted its ban on visiting the country in July 2017, tour operators have started to sell holidays there again and bookings are healthy enough for Thomas Cook to increase its flights to 11 a week.

Despite the trend for more adventurous, experiential trips, the package holiday is far from over. A report by the Association of British Travel Agents last year said packages “remain the single most popular booking option for foreign holidays” and, according to Mintel, the package market is expected to grow 7.5% by 2022.

Their continued popularity in the era of low-cost flights and airbnb is being fuelled in part by economic uncertainty – all-inclusives may not be fashionable but they are popular, up 10% year on year – but also by a shift away from the standard bucket and spade trip. Two years ago Thomas Cook introduced Casa Cook, an upmarket boutique brand targetting a new, younger market. This year sees the launch of Cook’s Club, similarly design-focused hotels aimed at a more budget-conscious travellers. The first Cook’s Club opens on 1 June in Hersonissos on Crete’s north coast.

Introducing more choice has ensured the continued success of the package. Thomas Cook struck publicity gold when it introduced “pre-book your sunbed” option in January this year. It also offers a “choose your room” service.