Holiday bonanza as prices are slashed

By Jonathan Prynn, Evening Standard

Last updated at 08:29 13 July 2004


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Mediterranean destinations are plummeting in price this summer

The cost of a holiday in southern Europe is now cheaper than it was 30 years ago.

On average, holidaymakers are paying £20 less than last year, and one operator, Thomas Cook, has even asked staff to dress up in Seventies clothes to emphasise the 'historic' level of its prices.

With some forecasters predicting weeks more of dismal weather, travel companies are banking on a last minute surge of bookings to save their summer.

Thomas Cook's retail director Simon Robinson described the state of the market as 'difficult' and admitted: 'We are still not hitting target numbers.'

According to industry magazine Travel Trade Gazette, the company is currently selling a seven-night self-catering holiday in Palma Nova in Majorca for £99. The same holiday cost £119 in 1979.

Other companies have also launched late-deal promotions in an effort to clear their stock of unsold packages.

Cosmos has a seven-night selfcatering holiday in Menorca departing on Friday costing £179 per person for two sharing. Another self-catering holiday on the Greek island of Zante departing Gatwick on Thursday is on sale for £ 189.

A Cosmos spokeswoman said both deals represented discounts of about 50 per cent. The company also has a flight-only deal to Crete, leaving Gatwick tonight for £69 return.

More upmarket operators such as Mark Warner have also felt the pinch, offering savings of £100 to £150 per head to help shift unsold holidays.

The industry is blaming the rise in the number of people travelling independently with budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet for the poor sales. Last year, the number of holidaymakers organising their own trips overtook those booking packages for the first time.

Another factor is said to have been the hot weather in June, which convinced many people that this summer in Britain would be a repeat of last year's 100C record-breaker.

There has also been a boom in the number of parents taking their children out of school to avoid the higher prices during the summer peak.

The shift away from some of the industry's biggest destinations in Spain and Greece to cheaper resorts in Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey has been particularly dramatic.

First Choice has dropped the Costa Brava, one of the first parts of Spain 'opened up' by the package holiday operators 30 years ago, for its 2005 brochure following a 25 per cent slump in bookings.

Travellers are also using internet sites such as ebookers and lastminute.com to hunt down discounts.

A spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents said holidaymakers were leaving booking later every year in the hope of picking up bargains. 'It's been tough trading and if people want to book late there are certainly plenty of deals still around,' she said.

What's available?

Riviera: Fortnight self catering with Eurocamp. Reduced to £1,000 from £1,538 for party of five.

Corfu: Seven nights self catering with Cosmos. Reduced from £1,302 to £1,056 for party of four.

Malta: Seven nights selfcatering with Cosmos departing 20 July on special offer of £199 per person. sites such as ebookers and lastminute.com to hunt down discounts.

Majorca: Seven nights half board departing Gatwick on Saturday with Eclipse Direct. Reduced to £249 from £450 per person.

Tenerife: Seven nights self catering departing from Luton on Friday with Sunstart. Reduced to £289 from £627 per person.

Bulgaria: Seven nights full board with Thompson. Reduced to £399 from £535 per person.

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